28 mars 2012

"Teaching for understanding" (Critical Guide, E.D. Hirsch Jr)

   A phrase that contrasts itself with teaching for "mere facts." It is associated with the motto "Less is more," which implies that depth is preferable to breadth in education, on the claim that depth leads to understanding, whereas breadth leads to superficiality and fragmentation. 

   Few would dissent from the aim of teaching for understanding. 

   Clearly the term needs different interpretations in the different grades. Take the alphabet. A kindergartner should understand the principle that the letters of the alphabet represent sounds. At a later stage, students should understand some peculiarities of English spelling and the differences between vowels and consonants. Still later, students might come to understand the historical uniqueness of the alphabetic system of writing, as contrasted with the various other modes of representing language in visual form such as hieroglyphics and ideograms. From this simple example, it is obvious that the phrase "understanding the alphabet" has very different content in different circumstances, and that the "deeper" understanding becomes, the more "mere facts" are required. A middle-school child does not need to understand what cuneiform is, or the difference between alphabetic and syllabic modes of phonological writing. As understanding of the alphabet advances, the university student may need to learn this additional information. 

   Few would disagree with a general preference for integration over fragmentation of information, but it is hard to get much useful guidance or meaning from the phrase "teaching for understanding."

Antipathy to subject-matter content  

"banking theory of schooling" 
"culturally-biased curriculum" 
"outcomes-based education" 
"research has shown"


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This was an excerpt from Hirsch's great book on education :
The Schools We Need 
 and Why We Don't Have Them.
Recension by Richard Askey :  

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