Applying the Six Facets of Understanding to Improve Student Learning

Posted by Matt Berringer on October 7, 2014

Six Facets of UnderstandingIt’s not enough for students to simply memorize material for a test; educators want their students to truly understand what they’re learning. With full understanding, students will be able to better process information and apply it to real-world situations throughout their academic and professional lives.

However, as Heather MacCorkle Edick, SunGard K-12 Education’s team lead--staff education, points out in her post about applying the Six Facets of Understanding, people “use the word ‘understanding’ and ‘understand’ with wild abandon, applying the word in different, inconspicuous ways, in different and the same contexts.”

For educators to seek to assess student learning in a universal way, it is helpful to apply these six facets of understanding, as identified by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe:

  1. Explanation – Students can provide sophisticated and meaningful explanations or theories to expand upon events, actions, and ideas.
  2. Interpretation – Students can identify meaning in what they’ve learned.
  3. Application – Students can demonstrate the ability to adapt what they’ve learned for a variety of situations.
  4. Perspective – Students can identify a variety of insightful views.
  5. Empathy – Students show an ability to position themselves within another person’s worldview.
  6. Self-Knowledge – Students can demonstrate a wisdom in knowing their own background and thought pattern and how these individual characteristics might prejudice their own understanding.

Teachers can encourage this sort of high-level understanding from their students by asking thought-provoking questions about the material, such as:

  • Why is that so?
  • How does it work?
  • Why does it matter?
  • How does it relate to you?
  • How or where can we use this knowledge?
  • Is it reasonable?
  • Is it justified or warranted?
  • What do you see that I don’t?
  • What do you need to experience in order to understand?
  • What are the limits of your own understanding?
  • How does who you are shape your own view?

By applying these facets of understanding and analysis of classroom lessons, students can demonstrate a deeper knowledge of the material and educators can more easily identify areas of needed improvement.


Topics: education, 21st-Century Learner, K-12