Understanding is a matter of being able to do a variety of thought-provoking things with a topic, such as explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, analogizing, and representing the topic in new ways.
Learners must spend the larger part of their time with activities that ask them to do thought-provoking tasks such as explaining, making generalizations, and, ultimately, applying their understanding on their own. And they must do these things in a thoughtful way, with appropriate feedback to help them do better.
Developing understanding means doing things?using old knowledge in new situations to solve novel problems.
Teaching for understanding framework includes four key ideas: Generative topics, Understanding goals, Performances of understanding, and Ongoing assessment.
Performances of Understanding are the varied learning experiences that learners do throughout a unit of instruction or over the course of a project that build and develop understanding of central concepts and processes.
Performances of understanding require students to go beyond the information given to create something new by reshaping, expanding, extrapolating from, applying, and building on what they already know.
Performances of Understanding are what learners DO as a unit/project progresses.
Performances are designed specifically to help learners:
(1) construct understanding,
(2) de-construct misunderstandings, and
(3) demonstrate what they do and do not understand
What to look for in determining whether a learning activity is really a Performance of Understanding.
  1. Learners are actively engaged in DOING (e.g., making things, experimenting, planning, talking, role playing)
  2. What learners do requires them to think beyond what they already know
  3. What learners do and think in a Performance of Understanding needs to be somewhat novel--taking them into some new context that is not entirely rote or familiar.
  4. What learners do and think about should aim directly at important discipline-based concepts and processes drawn from unit/project-level Goals for Understanding.


Making the goals public to students is an important piece of the teaching for understanding process. Students need to know where they are headed if we ever want them to be able to get there without our having to do all the driving. However, students do not always grasp understanding goals when they first hear them. In fact, if they do understand them easily, there?s a good chance that the goals might need to be more ambitious.