Perkins and Unger's Teaching and Learning for Understanding
When to use it?
TfU is suitable guide to organizing learning in any situation where understanding
is a priority.
TfU provides the guidelines about what generative topics will best support
learners' construction of their understanding, about how to identify and develop
suitable goals of understanding, about how to arrange a sequence to refine and
advance understanding performance, and about what evaluation mechanism should
be used to support assessment of understanding.
How to use it?
The key elements in the design instruction for understanding:
- Generative Topics:
Topics should be presented to help to generate students' construction of the
understanding. Four basic attributes serve criteria for generative topics:
- Central to a domain or discipline
- Accessible and interesting to students
- Interesting to the teacher
- Connectable: the topics should connect diverse themes within and beyond
the disciplines; the topics should also connect to students' prior experience.
The topic selection emphasizes the relevance to the discipline as well as to
the learners, the authenticity of the topics, and the complexity of the topics.
- Understanding Goals: What is it that learners should strive to
understand the generative topic? The descriptions of the goal should be explicit
and public, the goals should be nested to include multiple themes, and the
focus of the goals should cover the content knowledge, methods, purposes and
forms of expression in the domain.
- Understanding Performances: a sequence of performance should allow learners
ready entry to the topic, advance their understanding and bring them to a
contextually appropriate level of understanding. Learners should be provided
with opportunities to explore and to manipulate the physical objects; then
it comes to a phase, in which the learners should be exposed to a guided inquiry
to systematically engage in understanding the topics; finally, the learners
should carry out a culminating performance to demonstrate their understanding.
Also, the understanding performances should meet the following criteria:
- Relate directly to understanding the goals
- Develop and apply understanding through practice
- Engage multiple learning styles and forms of expressions
- Promote reflective engagement in challenging, approachable tasks
- Publicly demonstrate understanding: the principal performances need to be
visible at least in their outcomes
- Ongoing Assessment
Ongoing assessment recognizes the importance of feedback in learning. Instead
of end-unit assessment, TfU proposed that the teachers should develop ongoing
assessment early and often in the learning process to give students informative
feedback. Students are assessed on the sequential understanding performances
instead of separate tests. Multiple sources of feedback are encouraged, e.g.
peer evaluation. The planning of the ongoing assessment needs to consider
who should give feedback and when as well as the sufficient time for feedback
and follow-up rethinking.
Ongoing assessment should be part of the learning experience and meet the following
- Criteria are relevant, explicit, and public
- Occur frequently
- Multiple sources
- Gauge progress and inform planning: the results of the assessment should
provide revision and planning to address particular needs or emergent problems.
Perkins and Unger (1999) suggested to ask four major questions in planning:
- What do you really want your students to understand?
- What can you do to help them build those understandings?
- What actions can they take to help themselves to build their own understandings?
- How will we, and they, know that they understand?
Research on TfU:
Purposes of the research:
- To evolve a profile of characteristics patterns of teacher development around
the framework: case studies and teachers' reports
- To study the effects of TfU on student understanding: case studies of 8-10
students from each of four classrooms; data sources include collections of
their works and multiple interviews; measurement is a rubric focusing on four
critical dimensions of understanding (content knowledge, methods, purposes
of knowledge, and forms of expression) and four levels of understanding (naïve,
novice, apprentice, and mastery)
- To examine students' conceptions of understanding and learning for understanding:
interviews of non-participant students for a baseline; interviews of the TfU
students: students recognized the distinctiveness of TfU; students were far
more performance oriented about the conceptions of understanding; the positive
correlation between these variables and students' actual achieved understandings
What other instructional-design theories are discussed?
The instructional theories discussed in this knowledge base are classified
as follows based on the different theoretical foundations about learning.
Perkins, D. N., & Unger, C. (1999). Teaching and learning for understanding.
In C. M. Reigeluth, (Ed), Instructional-design theories and models: A new
paradigm of instructional theory, Volume II. pp,91-114. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence