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Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5

Teaching for Understanding

How do we plan for learning? This session focuses on the Teaching for Understanding model, a framework for unit planning developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The onscreen teachers use the framework to analyze unit planning in classroom videos, plan for their own social studies units, and create a pictorial timeline of U.S. history that outlines an entire year of learning.

Teaching for Understanding

This session focuses on planning a social studies curriculum to maximize learning. It addresses the questions How do we plan for learning? and How can comprehensive planning increase students’ understanding of social studies? It is designed to give teachers a framework for planning and connecting social studies units.

To help you extend your thinking, you will:

  • Identify factors that influence curriculum planning.
  • Explore the Teaching for Understanding framework.
  • Analyze and design social studies units.

Learning Goals

At the end of this session you will be able to:

• Define the Teaching for Understanding framework.

• Analyze lessons using the Teaching for Understanding framework.

• Use Teaching for Understanding in your practice.

Engage

1. Getting Started

Watch the video introduction to familiarize yourself with the session, instructor, and participants. In this video segment, workshop participants discuss factors that influence their curriculum planning and compare their ideas to other teachers. As you watch, think about what influences your curriculum planning.

View Video Segment: Introduction

You’ll find this segment at the beginning of the video. Watch for about 15 minutes.

2. What Do You Know?

A concept chart can help you identify the factors that influence your social studies planning. Recall a social studies unit that you have taught recently, list your understanding goals or objectives for the unit, and identify factors that influenced your planning.

Here is an example:

 

Use the Concept Chart (PDF) to list your unit, objectives, and factors that influence your planning.

3. Reflect on Your Work

When you have completed your concept chart, review the factors that influence your planning and consider the following questions:

  • How were your objectives affected by the factors you listed?
  • How did students demonstrate their learning?
  • How did you connect this unit to other units?

Explore

Key Concepts from Glossary

Teaching for Understanding

Throughlines

Generative topic

Understanding goals

Performances of understanding

Ongoing assessment

 

Readings
Read each of the articles listed below to learn how key concepts define a framework for teaching social studies.

After you read the articles, write answers to the following questions. You can use the Reading Questions form (PDF).

  1. How do advance organizers help students learn new concepts?
  2. How does yearlong planning differ from unit or lesson planning?
  3. Describe the elements of the Teaching for Understanding framework:
    • Throughlines
    • Generative topic
    • Understanding goals
    • Performances of understanding
    • Ongoing assessment

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.

 

Articles
Using Schema Theory To Teach American History (PDF)
Explains advance organizers in relationship to schema theory.

Duis, Mac. “Using Schema Theory To Teach American History.” National Council for the Social Studies.

Putting Understanding Up Front (PDF)
Provides an overview of the Teaching for Understanding framework.

Perkins, David, and Tina Blythe. “Putting Understanding Up Front. Educational Leadership. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Teaching for Understanding (PDF)
Describes the elements of the Teaching for Understanding framework.

Active Learning Practices for Schools. Teaching for Understanding. Harvard University Graduate School of Education and Project Zero.

Explain

The following video segment reviews the Teaching for Understanding framework, and provides an example of how it can be used in a classroom.

View Video Segment: Identifying Elements in a Classroom Example

You’ll find this segment approximately 17 minutes into the video. Watch for about 20 minutes.

In this segment, workshop instructor Mary McFarland reviews the elements of Teaching for Understanding, and shows how fifth-grade teacher Rob Cuddi uses this framework in a lesson on explorers in North America.

 

Viewing Activity

As you watch, look for elements of the Teaching for Understanding framework and think about the following questions:

  • What are Mr. Cuddi’s throughlines or yearlong goals?
  • What is the generative topic used to introduce the unit?
  • What are Mr. Cuddi’s understanding goals for his students in this unit?
  • How do students demonstrate their understanding?
  • How does Mr. Cuddi provide ongoing assessment?
  • What is the culminating assessment?

Apply

Apply what you’ve learned about Teaching for Understanding as you complete the following activities.

1. Analyzing a Lesson

Rob Cuddi’s class is studying explorers in North America. Mr. Cuddi uses essential questions throughout the unit to remind students of yearlong goals. He also integrates other subjects in the activities his students do to demonstrate their learning. As students work together in groups, draft haiku, and rehearse skits, Mr. Cuddi engages a range of assessment methods.

How does Mr. Cuddi incorporate the elements of Teaching for Understanding? Use the charts in this interactive activity to record your thoughts.

Analyzing a Lesson
Go to Interactive Activity 

A non-interactive version of this activity is available as a PDF document.

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.

View Video Segment: Applying Teaching for Understanding

You’ll find this segment approximately 39 minutes into the video. Watch for about 20 minutes.

In this video segment, participants work together to identify the elements of Teaching for Understanding in Mr. Cuddi’s lesson, then complete a mini-lesson that illustrates yearlong story lines in history.

 

2. Planning a Unit and Lesson

Now that you have practiced identifying elements of the Teaching for Understanding framework, complete a Graphic Organizer (PDF) based on a unit and lesson of your own. Follow these steps:

  • Choose a social studies unit that you teach.
  • Identify the yearlong goal or throughline your unit will relate to.
  • Come up with a generative topic that provides the specific focus of this unit.
  • List the unit goals that support the generative topic and 1 or more of the throughlines.
  • Show the performances of understanding that you will require of students in each lesson of the unit.
  • Show the ongoing assessments activity that you will include in each lesson.
  • Describe the culminating assessments that you will plan for the end of the unit.

Note: If you are taking all eight sessions for credit, you can revise the unit you began in session one to incorporate the elements of Teaching for Understanding.

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.

Evaluate

What Did You Learn?
In this session, you learned how the Teaching for Understanding framework can be used to develop and connect social studies units.

Review your initial concept chart, answers to the reading questions, and the unit you developed. Now write a Summary (PDF) of what you’ve learned. Be sure to include:

  • what you learned about the factors that influence your curriculum planning;
  • how you might incorporate each element of the Teaching for Understanding framework into your practice;
  • the benefits and challenges of using the framework in your teaching; and
  • how students’ understanding can improve over the course of the year.

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.

 

Refer to the Assignments below to be sure you’ve completed all assignments for this session.

Resources

Print

Perkins, David. Smart Schools. New York: NY, The Free Press, 1992.

National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Washington, D.C., National Council for the Social Studies, 1994.

Hartoonian, Michael H., and Margaret A. Laughlin. Succeed with the Standards in Your Social Studies Classroom. Portland, ME. J. Weston Walch, 1997.

 

Websites

Active Learning Practices for Schools (ALPS)
Provides information about teaching and understanding.

National Council for the Social Studies
Contains excerpts from Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.

 

Assignments

If you are taking this workshop for credit or professional development, submit the following assignments for session 2: Teaching for Understanding.

  1. Explore: Read the articles and respond to the questions that follow.
  2. Apply: Identify elements of the Teaching for Understanding framework and complete the Analyzing a Lesson activity.
  3. Apply: Develop a unit based on the Teaching for Understanding framework, and complete the Planning a Unit and Lesson activity.
  4. Evaluate: Summarize what you’ve learned about curriculum planning.

Workshops