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Deep Understanding


“Take a deep dive- with your brain.” Good teachers desire that students think deeply about ideas, concepts, problems, and systems.

However, when the days are long, and the students are grumpy and the paperwork becomes overwhelming, it is much easier for a teacher to simply teach at the surface level. At least for me, this is true.

I appreciate the ideas from the Quality Teaching Academy authored by professors at the University of Newcastle, because they make it clear that “deep understanding” is a foundational principle of quality education.

As I create my syllabi for the spring term, I must think. Am I only asking students to understand key concepts at the simple, surface level? Am I asking students to wrestle with complex ideas? Am I asking students to explore the synthesis of several ideas and relationships? Do I let my students struggle to conceptualize difficult concepts?

It is not hard to present simplistic ideas and then to assess these ideas in superficial ways. It is not hard to explain a concept, review it, and assess with an objective assessment.

But most concepts are more complex. For example, in my composition course for first year freshman, we learn about coherence in writing. Coherence is not something they can memorize. Coherence in writing appears on a continuum of poor to strong coherence. Coherence can be achieved by using transition words, linking sentences, and key words appropriately. At the sentence level, coherence can be achieved by presenting old information first, then new information. Topic sentences and concluding sentences also help. But these are just a few ideas. Coherency in writing is complex.

The Quality Teaching Classroom Practice Guide offers teachers concrete ways to deepen students’ understanding of complete ideas. (my edits here)

· Provide models that demonstrate deep understanding.

· Incorporate regular, formative assessments.

· Allow time to discuss complex issues throughout a unit of study.

· Design group work that encourages students to go beyond easy answers.

· Provide arguments from several points of view.

I am rethinking several complex topics in my courses for 2024, and considering how I can offer more opportunities for my students to THINK, and not just do. Join me!

For more about Quality Teaching,

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

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