Understanding, Knowing, and Doing
This week I’ve been contemplating the difference between the words “understanding, knowing, and doing” in a course objective template I’m using, and the implications of those differences in how course standards are written and interpreted. Taking a Constructivist viewpoint, I have also identified words that signal key objectives in a typical, community college course standard in order to work toward a successful, student-centered model of a first-year writing class, structured on the book I spoke about last week, Understanding by Design. How key words are interpreted become the basis for a robust course outline.
Understanding is defined, in Understanding by Design, as the long-term and transferable goal that drives true learning. What we thoroughly understand stays with us as a building block for future learning that transposes itself over time and space. If, for instance, a person learns that there are numerous ways (and no single right way) to approach a problem; that as an individual, his or her creative process may be different from someone else’s; that his opinion is valued; and that her first attempt is only practice, that person is well on their way to becoming successful in school, at work, and in life.
Unfortunately, many students arrive in college writing classrooms with a more ingrained understanding― that they can’t write. Even though they effectively communicate verbally with family, peers, and employers on a daily basis, emphasis on “correct” writing has devalued not only students’ writing products, but also their language codes and social cultures (Shaughnessy 92). One can certainly see that by making a long-term goal that is seemingly both unneeded and unreachable; little motivation to succeed will result. With broad, transferable goals and deep understanding of the purpose and process of writing, hopeful teachers believe that, given the right tools, even basic writing classes can confer an acceptable level of success to each student.
Knowing is the word used in Understanding by Design to identify the attainment of skills required to accomplish a task or solve a problem. Teachers, of course, can’t guarantee that all students will become excellent writers, but they can provide the necessary tools for each student to do their best. The basic skills needed for proficient college writing that Mina Shaughnessy discusses in her 1977 book, Errors and Expectations, including handwriting, punctuation, and spelling, are still recognized today by experts Henry Jenkins and the Carnegie Corporation as essential. Along with the basics, however, there are new technological skills, social skills and ethical frameworks that are necessary for students to function in today’s participatory culture. The long list of “how tos,” however, should be refined and prioritized to provide individual students with the power and self-confidence to participate effectively in school and life.
I went to college, but I learned to write by reading – and writing. Daniel Pinkwater
Doing inspires self-confidence, and practice perfects the end product. This is why many experts bemoan the lack of writing practice students are currently getting in school. Because of new curriculum reforms driven by student’s inadequate preparation for college writing, most standards will now be including more writing practice, both in writing classrooms and across disciplines. The Carnegie study linked above discusses the transferable skills developed through reading and writing. Writing, as well as reading, the authors say, “is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy” (3). The metacognitive skills acquired through the writing process, experts say, are equally important as the written product itself.
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). “Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools” – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York.Washington, DC:Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf (June 6, 2012).
Jenkins, Henry. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF (June 6, 2012).
Pinkwater, Daniel. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/daniel_pinkwater.html
Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors & Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.