Understanding.JPG6 Facets of Understanding
By: Julie & Clay


Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have developed a multifaceted view of what makes up a mature understanding, a six-sided view of the concept of understanding. The six facets they outlined are most easily summarized by specifying the particular achievement each facet reflects. For example, when one fully understands, one is able to explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize and have self-knowledge.
    • explain:
      Provide thorough and justifiable accounts of phenomena, facts, and data.
      The first facet, the ability to explain, enables a student to understand “how things work, what they imply, where they connect, and why they happened” (86). In order to help students develop the ability to explain, they must “be given assignments and assessments that require them to explain what they know and give good reasons in support of it before we can conclude that they understand what was taught” (87). We should create assessments that ask for students “to reveal their understanding by using such verbs as support, justify, generalize, predict, verify, prove, and substantiate” (87). However, we must also be careful to “[u]se assessments (e.g. performance tasks, projects, prompts, and tests) that ask students to provide an explanation on their own, not simply recall; to link specific facts with larger ideas and justify the connections; to show their work, not just give an answer and to support their conclusions” (88).

    • interpret:
    • In order to fully interpret, one must be able to tell meaningful stories, offer apt translations, provide a revealing historical or personnal dimension to ideas and events; make subjects personal and accessible
      through images, anecdotes, models and analogies. Wiggins and McTighe assert that "a good story both enlightens and engages; it helps us remember and connect" (89). They mention the use of parables
      and literature in teaching. Both teach about the human condition, and therefore help us learn more about ourselves.

    • apply:
      When one is able to apply understanding, one can effectively use and adapt what they know in diverse contexts. By asking students to apply, they demonstrate the ability “use knowledge” (93). Students demonstrate application knowledge by “using it, adapting it, and customizing it”

    • have perspective:
      See and hear points of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture. Perspective “involves weighing different plausible explanations and interpretations” (97). Educators need to ask students to look at things from different points of view, even conflicting points of view.

    • empathize:
      Find value in what others might find odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior indirect experience. empathy involves the ability to "get inside" another's feelings, thoughts and world views. Consider the questions: how does it seem to you? What do they see that I don't? What do I need to experience if I am to fully understand?

    • have self-knowledge:
      Perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape and impede our own understanding; they are aware of what they do not understand and why understanding is so hard. Self-knowledge is the wisdom to know one's ignorance and how one's patterns of thought and action inform as well as prejudice understanding. Self-knowledge involves knowledge of one's limits, habits, style, learning preferences and work strategies.

2. Rationale

These facets are different but related, in the same way that different criteria are used in judging the quality of a performance. For example, "good essay writing" is composed of persuasive, organized, and clear prose. All three criteria need to be met, yet each is different from and somewhat independent of the other two. The writing might be clear but unpersuasive; it might be well organized but unclear and somewhat persuasive.
Similarly, a student may have a thorough and sophisticated explanation but not be able to apply it, or see things from a critical distance but lack empathy. The facets reflect the different connotations of understanding, yet a complete and mature understanding ideally involves the full development of all six kinds of understanding. Understanding is thus not mere knowledge of facts but knowledge of why and how.

3. Examples of Each Facet
Explanation: Students develop an illustrated brochure to explain the principles and practices of a particular type of technology (i.e., transportation, construction, medical, information). Students are able to provide justifiable accounts that fully support their explanations in ways that illustrate their full knowledge of this particular technology and its applications in larger contexts.

Interpretation: Students develop a ‘biography’ of the development of a particular type of technology clearly detailing this through the incorporation of multiple strategies, i.e., stories, parables, anecdotes, analogies and models that engage and support retention of material.

Application: Students design, develop, test, and revise a solution to a local issue, such as a new roadway system, a water treatment system, or long-term storage of various materials, demonstrating the ability to customize and adapt to multiple contexts and settings.

Perspective: Students investigate a technological artifact from the perspective of different regions, ethnicities, and countries. They are called to consider conflicting or even contradictory views, weighing the plausibility of varied explanations within the "Big Picture" or a global perspective.

Students imagine they are politicians debating the value of nuclear power. They write their thoughts and feelings explaining why they agree or disagree with the use of nuclear power demonstrating a sense of others' thoughts, views and sensitivities.

Self-Knowledge: Students reflect on their own progress of understanding about one of the standards in Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology. They evaluate the extent to which they have improved, what task or assignment was the most challenging and why, and which project or product of work they are most proud of and why, acknowledging personal limits, habits, work strategies and preferences and the impact of such.

4. Student Impact

Application of the 6 facets leads to genuine and relevant inquiry and conceptualization of ideas while provoking deeper thought and discussion in the classroom. This newer and more encompassing understanding by students leads them to develop new questions, stimulates rethinking of assumptions or prejudices while sparking meaningful connections to prior learning and personal experiences. Students will learn that they are simply not "done" with a lesson or project because they felt they exerted effort, followed directions, etc., culminating in a finshed piece of work depicting their singular point of view. Instruction and performance standards within this strategy must promote student thought that includes the various facets (i.e., perspective taking, emapthy, self-knowledge, etc.). Students who are taught within this strategy become life-long learners who continually question and actively seek deeper and deeper levels of understanding, leading to the realization of not only the extrinsic, but intrinsic value of an intellectual life.

5. What other teachers might find difficult about implementing this strategy

Educators may experience some initial resistance fully embracing the facets from students who may be reluctant to expend the energy required to attain the desired outcomes. Additionally, educators must experience this process of understanding themselves, and be adept at applying it, teaching it and expanding upon it.
Educators can gain support in implementing this strategy through the utilization of the concept of "metacognition", or "thinking about thinking". This concept embraces and aligns nicely with the 6 facets by emphasizing student ownership of their emotions, behaviors and learning. Students monitor their achievement, set and attain goals through thoughtful planning of how to approach a task, monitoring comprehension and understanding (explain) while being fully cognizant of their intensions and motives (self-knowledge, empathy, perspective). Implementation of the facets can also be facilitated through active collaboration among teachers, serving to support the application in multiple settings and contexts, further reinforcing for not only the students, but the teachers a seamless and fluent administration of the facets. Professional development regarding utilization of the facets would also serve to buttress its useage while increasing a sense of confidence in its execution.

6. What we might like or dislike about implementing this strategy

Possible impediments to successful implementation of this strategy could include a lack of personal self-awareness, the time intensive aspect of developing deeper understanding within very real time constraints in the classroom, and a lack of previous experience or exposure (by educators and students) to this strategy. Contemporary education demands much more from the educator than in previous decades. Teachers are now called upon to not only provide academic instruction, but also model and monitor appropriate moral and interpersonal behaviors. However, these additional demands do not have to be exclusionary or prohibitive to the successful implementation of this strategy. On the contrary, once an educator is exposed to, encouraged to practice, and provided ongoing support in implementation of the strategy, the demands of the system become more easily surmounted, and students have the tools to more naturally develop into life-long learners.