Teaching for understanding

Teaching for understanding

One of the primary goals of teaching and learning at Eastgate Academy is to help students develop a deep understanding of the topics and disciplines that they study. In addition to learning relevant facts and skills, students will learn to connect facts and topics to broader themes and concepts.

For example, students may study body systems by comparing the similarities and differences between the respiratory system, digestive system and circulatory systems. In so doing, they will learn the same information as they would if they studied each system in isolation, but will also learn about the concept of systems more broadly. This gives students a solid basis from which to learn about other body systems, like the nervous system or reproductive system, and can extend even further to support their understanding of ecosystems.

H. Lynn Erickson, IB Global Conference Keynote 2011

Connecting new information and ideas this way helps students to make sense of what they are learning, making it more memorable and resulting in a deeper, more nuanced understanding. This style of teaching, with a focus on conceptual understanding, is one of the approaches to teaching that defines the IB programs.

This model illustrates how facts are connected to topics, concepts, general principles and theories. There are two key features to note in this structure:

  1. Although students are developing an understanding of broad concepts and theories, teaching and learning are not limited to generalizations and abstractions. Students still learn specific, concrete facts, but rather than learning them in isolation from each other, the facts are connected to bigger ideas.
  2. This model works in both directions. Students may begin with a general concept or principle, such as conflict, and then learn about specific examples of conflicts in history. In other situations, it may be more appropriate to learn about some specific examples, like like energy transformation, and chemical and physical change, as a starting point for exploring an idea like change in a broader sense.

In addition to helping students develop a deeper understanding of the facts and topics they study, this approach also helps students to develop the skill of processing new information and connecting it to what they already know. Given how rapidly new information is being generated and distributed, this skill is essential for students navigating both the present and the future.


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