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The Six Facets of Understanding Essay

how to write an essay using the six facets of understanding

Example #1

`The objective of this work is the compare and contrast Bloom’s Taxonomy with the Six Facets of Understanding from Wiggins and McTighe and to cite examples from experiential knowledge gained through practice. Understanding by Design – Six Facets of Understanding – Wiggins & McTighe

The work of Wiggins and McTighe is based on the ‘Six Facets of Understanding ‘which are as follows:

  • Explanation – the provision of complete and justifiable accounts of phenomena, data and facts;
  • Interpretation – telling of stories, the offering of translations and the provision of supporting personal ideas, events, and stories to help the understanding of the learners;
  • Perspective – seeing and hearing other points of views through critical seeing and listening while knowing the overall bigger picture;
  • Application – use of knowledge in a meaningful way.
  • Empathy – Findings value in what others might find to be odd or implausible; and
  • Self-knowledge – the perception of the individual styles, thinking styles, and personal styles that form an understanding as well as that which stands in the way of understanding II.

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Bloom’s Taxonomy Bloom’s Taxonomy is also based on six levels of learning as follows:

  • Knowledge is reflected by the ability to memorize facts;
  • Understanding is the management of knowledge or the application of knowledge;
  • Application – full use of understanding
  • Analysis or the ability to break down the knowledge and see the part of the whole.
  • Synthesis – the stage in which they learning can move easily between the different part that makes up the whole; and
  • Evaluation – the ability to impart the knowledge to others III.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Compared & Contrasted with Wiggins & McTighe While the theories of learning of Bloom and Wiggins & McTighe are very similar the difference lies in the failure of Bloom to note the stage at which the learner has gained enough knowledge to empathetically understand the learner’s dilemma prior to their gaining an understanding of the subject.

This is very critical in the practice because at this point the learner may become easily frustrated or feel that they aren’t capable of understanding. For instance, a piano teacher when working with students is able to draw on their past learning and remember how it was when they did not understand the knowledge being imparted to them and then with that empathetic understanding of where the learner is at in relation to learning the subject at hand bring the learner over that hump instead of the learner becoming frustrated and giving up.

To explain more clearly; learning to practice scales with both hands and to have both the right and left hand smoothly play octave scales in different keys is at first difficult and the learner makes clumsy attempts finding it hard to believe that they will be able to duplicate the teacher’s playing of scales, however, the teacher remembers this feeling of frustration and empathetically shares that story with the learner who is then inspired to believe that the learning is attainable with practice and that they too will be able to play the scales in the future.


Example #2 – how to write an essay using the six facets of understanding

Understanding by Design (UBD) is an art concept that emphasizes the role of a teacher in designing a student’s learning. It helps in contriving effective learning activities through effective assessment of student understanding, peer review of the curriculum, and collaboration. Understanding, as a concept, is different from the design of a unit of study for understanding.

Understanding is the “deepening and development” of the student knowledge on fundamental concepts and ideas in a given discipline. It involves the concepts about a topic that students should comprehend during instruction. Student understanding is achieved through the use of “complex yet authentic opportunities” easy to interpret and apply from a student’s perspective.

Thus, the ability of the students to apply or transfer essential aspects of their learning within appropriate contexts implies student understanding. Wiggins and McTighe identify six facets that serve as indicators of understanding viz. the ability to interpret, explain, apply, empathize, change perspective, and self-assess their learning (2001, p. 52).

In other words, understanding is earned by the students and allows them to apply their learning. In contrast, the design of a unit for understanding involves the curriculum development that focuses on achieving particular desired learning goals.

According to Wiggins and McTighte, effective curriculum design must reflect a three-stage process known as “backward design”, which first clarifies the learning goals and assessments before designing the classroom activities for the understanding unit (2001, p. 81).

The Six Facets of Understanding and Art Curriculum

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe provide a learning framework that helps teachers plan lessons for students’ understanding of given ideas and concepts during classroom instruction. In particular, each of the six facets of understanding has implications on curriculum design. These six facets, which include interpretation, empathy, explanation, application, self-knowledge, and perspective, reflect the standards of Visual and Performing Arts.

In arts, the unit plan format should include the standards, learning objectives, context, assessment, learning sequence, and summative assessment for each standard. The art curriculum framework involves four strands viz. perception, cultural heritage, creative expression, and evaluation.

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The facet of the explanation involves providing of knowledgeable account of ideas or actions and is aligned with the perception strand during instruction. Interpretation, in an art context, involves translations or narratives that have meaning and thus a form of creative expression.

Similarly, application and self-knowledge facets relate to the creative expression of original works of art. The perspective facet involves making evaluations of personal as well as other people’s artistic works. Empathy, in art’s context, involves the ability to value and understand various cultures or historical events.

In the classroom context, the six facets of understanding provide evidence of student understanding of concepts or theories. Explanation occurs when the teacher offers a thorough account of some facts, data, or phenomena during a learning session.

Interpretation involves meaningful translations or revelations from a personal or historical perspective regarding certain events or ideas using analogies, models, and other teaching aids. In the classroom, this facet manifests itself during discussions of experiences or the lesson’s text.

With regard to application, in instructional context, the students should effectively use the ideas in diverse contexts especially through innovations or authentic tasks (Wiggins, & McTighte, 2001, p. 134). In addition, in the classroom, the students should see an issue from multiple perspectives through a structured question/answer approach.

The student should also evaluate contrasting ideas and develop insights during learning. This can be achieved through simulations or direct experiences in addition to coursework. Moreover, the students should have self-knowledge about the factors that influence their own understanding of a particular concept by encouraging students to recognize their own learning style.

Teaching Strategies that Promote Understanding

To enhance critical thinking, developing lessons that integrate critical thinking and problem-solving is paramount. For students, the lessons should aim at exposing unexamined assumptions and their possible implications. In this way, the student will develop critical views with regard to common theories, feelings, or beliefs.

Administrators, workshops, or conferences should aim at sensitizing managers especially with regard to decision-making. In essence, crucial decisions should involve brainstorming sessions. In addition, the decision-making process should be horizontal to incorporate everyone’s views in order to find a solution to a particular problem.

Additionally, community empowerment or educational programs should incorporate the perspective facet of understanding to allow people to develop a multiple-perspective approach regarding their beliefs or culture.


Example #3

We have developed a multifaceted view of what makes up a mature understanding, a six-sided view of the concept. The six facets are most easily summarized by specifying the particular achievement each facet reflects. When we truly understand, we

  • Can explain: provide thorough, supported, and justifiable accounts of phenomena, facts, and data.
  • Can interpret: tell meaningful stories; offer apt translations; provide a revealing historical or personal dimension to ideas and events; make it personal or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies, and models.
  • Can apply: effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse contexts.
  • Have perspective: see and hear points of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture.
  • Can empathize: find value in what others might find odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior direct experience.
  • Have self-knowledge: perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape and impede our own understanding; we are aware of what we do not understand and why understanding is so hard.

These facets are different but related, in the same way, that different criterion are used in judging the quality of performance. For example, “good essay writing” is composed of persuasive, organized, and clear prose. All three criteria need to be met, yet each is different from and somewhat independent of the other two. The writing might be clear but unpersuasive; it might be well organized but unclear and somewhat persuasive.

Similarly, a student may have a thorough and sophisticated explanation but not be able to apply it, or see things from a critical distance but lack empathy. The facets reflect the different connotations of understanding we considered in the previous chapter, yet a complete and mature understanding ideally involves the full development of all six kinds of understanding.

Knowledge of Why and How

Understanding is thus not mere knowledge of facts but knowledge of why and how. Here are some examples:

  • We know that the Civil War happened, and we can perhaps cite a full chronology. But why did it happen?
  • We may know that different objects fall to the ground with apparent uniformity of acceleration. But how is that so? Why does mass not make a difference in acceleration? To understand in this sense is to connect facts and ideas—often seemingly odd, counterintuitive, or contradictory facts and ideas—into a theory that works.

As Dewey (1933) explained, to understand something “is to see it in its relations to other things: to note how it operates or functions, what consequences follow from it, what causes it” (p. 137) (emphasis in original). We go beyond the information given to make inferences, connections, and associations—a theory that works. Powerful and insightful models are the results of this understanding.

We can bind together seemingly disparate facts into a coherent, comprehensive, and illuminating account. We can predict heretofore unsought for or unexamined results, and we can illuminate strange or unexamined experiences.

What do we mean by a theory that works? Let us first consider a successful adult theory, the example of modern physics. Galileo, Kepler, and finally Newton and Einstein developed a theory capable of explaining the movement of all physical objects, from falling apples to comets. The theory predicts tides, the location of planets and comets, and how to put the nine ball in the corner pocket.

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The theory was not obvious or due to mere cataloging of facts: The authors had to imagine a frictionless world, with movement on earth a special case. Of course, their critics had a field day with the idea that there was a force—gravity—everywhere on earth, acting at a distance, but by no discernible means—and (contrary to the ancient Greek view and common sense) acting in such a way that the weight of an object had no effect on its rate of descent to earth. The theory eventually won over competing theories because, despite its counterintuitive elements, it did a better job than any competing theory of explaining, ordering, and predicting phenomena.

Similarly, a student who can explain why steam, water, and ice, though superficially different, are the same chemical substance that has a better understanding of H2O than someone who cannot. A student reveals an understanding of things—perhaps an experience, a lesson by the teacher, a concept, or her own performance—when she can give good reasons and provide relevant and telling evidence to support her claims. More thorough understandings involve more thorough and systematic explanations, typically when an event is subsumed under general and powerful principles.

Merely learning and giving back on tests the official theory of the textbook or teacher are not evidence of understanding. Facet 1 calls for a student to be given assignments and assessments requiring an explanation of what the student knows and good reasons in support of it before we can conclude that the student understands what was taught.

Warranted Opinions

Understandings in this sense thus go beyond true or borrowed opinions (mere right answers) to warranted opinions — a student’s ability to explain an answer so that he can justify how he arrived at that answer and why it is right. We call upon students to reveal their understanding by using such verbs as explain, justify, generalize, predict support, verify, prove, and substantiate.

Regardless of the subject content or the age or sophistication of the student, when the student understands in the sense of Facet 1, that student has the ability to “show her work”: explain why an answer is right or wrong, give valid evidence, and argument for a view, and defend that view against other views, if needed. We are also implying for assessment that the student must be confronted with a new phenomenon, fact, or problem to see if she can, on her own, subsume it under the correct principle and explain away apparent counterarguments and counterexamples.

The student with the most in-depth understanding in this sense both sees and explains diverse data more precisely and grasps the more subtle aspects of the ideas or experience in question. Those understandings are invariably described by teachers as thorough, nuanced, or thoughtfully qualified (as opposed to merely glib, sweeping, or grandiose theorizing).

The student has an understanding of guiding principles that explain and give value to the facts. An explanation or theory without such understanding is typically not so much wrong as it is incomplete or naive. It is not wrong to say that the Civil War was fought over slavery, or that literature often involves good versus evil, however naive or simplistic those answers might appear.

Instructional Implications

What are the instructional implications for developing the type of understanding described in Facet 1? This facet suggests that we deliberately seek a better balance between knowledge transmission (through the teacher and text) and student theory building and testing. A simple strategy to accomplish this goal is to focus on the 5 “W” questions at the heart of journalism—who, what, where, when, and why—in instruction and assessment.

From a design point of view, Facet 1 calls for building units around overarching (essential and unit) questions, issues, and problems that demand student theories and explanations, such as those found in problem-based learning and effective hands-on and minds-on science programs.

The implications for assessment are straightforward—use assessments (e.g., performance tasks, projects, prompts, and tests) that ask students to explain, not simply recall; to link specific facts with larger ideas and justify the connections; to show their work, not just give an answer; and to support their conclusions.


Facet 2: Interpretation

The object of interpretation is understanding, not explanation. Understanding occurs when we organize essentially contestable but “incompletely verifiable propositions in a disciplined way” (Bruner, 1996, p. 90). A principal means for doing that organizing is through narrative: by telling a story of what something is about.

But as Kierkegaard had made clear many years before, telling stories in order to understand is no mere enrichment of the mind; without them we are, to use his phrase, reduced to fear and trembling (Kierkegaard, in Bruner, 1996, p. 90).

What does it mean? Why does it matter? What about it? What does it illustrate or illuminate in human experience? How does it relate to me? What makes sense?

  • ✓ A grandfather tells stories about the Depression to illustrate the importance of saving for a rainy day.
  • ✓ An 11th grader shows how Gulliver’s Travels can be read as a satire on British intellectual life; it’s not just a fairy tale.
  • × A middle school student can translate all the words but does not grasp the meaning of a Spanish sentence.

We value good storytellers with reason: A good story both enlightens and engages. A clear and compelling narrative helps us find meaning, not just scattered facts and abstract ideas. Stories help us remember and make sense of our lives and the lives around us.

The deepest, most transcendent meanings are found, of course, in the stories, parables, and myths that anchor all religions. A story is not a diversion; the best stories make our lives more understandable and focused.

Meanings Transform Understanding

The meanings we ascribe to all events, big and small, transform our understanding and perception of particular facts. The student possessing this understanding can show an event’s significance, reveal an idea’s importance, or provide an interpretation that strikes a deep chord of recognition and resonance.

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Consider how memorable Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington speech (“I have a dream”) and imagery crystallized the many complex ideas and feelings behind the Civil Rights movement. Or, think of how the best newspaper editorials make sense of complex political currents and ideas.

Meaning, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Think of how much November 22, 1963 (the day of President Kennedy’s assassination), means as a watershed event to those of us who came of age in the ’60s. Or, consider how differently a mother, a police officer, or an adolescent in a foster home might perceive the same newspaper account of severe child abuse.

Social workers and psychologists might well have an accepted theory of child abuse in the sense of Facet 1. But the meaning of the event, hence an understanding of it, may have little to do with the theory; the theory may be only a scientific account, with no bearing, for example, on the abused person’s view of the event and the world.

Making sense—of the stories of others and of discrete data on facts—involves translation and interpretation. Whether we think of a struggling student taking German 1, a 12th grader reading King Lear, a 6th-grade student pondering the curve implied in a data set, or a scholar poring over the Dead Sea Scrolls, the challenge is the same: understanding words rooted in an author’s intent but a puzzle to the reader, or understanding facts that tell no self-evident or single story.

Similarly, in fields like history and archaeology, we must reconstruct the meaning of events and artifacts from clues provided by the historical record. With this type of understanding, teachers ask learners to interpret, translate, make sense of, show the significance of, decode, and make a story meaningful.

Facet 3: Application

How and where can we use this knowledge, skill, or process? How should my thinking and action be modified to meet the demands of this particular situation?

  • ✓ A young couple uses their knowledge of economics (e.g., the power of compounded interest and the high cost of credit cards) to develop an effective financial plan for saving and investing.
  • ✓ 7th-grade students use their knowledge of statistics to accurately project next year’s costs and needs for the student-run candy and supply store.
  • × A physics professor cannot diagnose and fix a broken lamp.

Matching an Idea to a Context

Understanding involves matching one’s idea or action to context. Also, it involves tact in the sense William James (1899/1958) referred to the tact needed for teaching, namely “knowledge of the concrete situation” (as opposed to theoretical—Facet 1—knowledge of child psychology).

The implications for teaching and assessment are straightforward and at the heart of the performance-based reforms, the authors have been a part of for the last decade. We show our understanding of something by using it, adapting it, and customizing it. When we must negotiate different constraints, social contexts, purposes, and audiences, understanding is revealed as performance know-how, the ability to accomplish tasks successfully, with grace under pressure, and with tact.

Application of understanding is thus a context-dependent skill, requiring the use of new problems and diverse situations in assessment, as Bloom (1956) and his colleagues long ago argued:

If the situations . . . are to involve application as we are defining it here, then they must either be situations new to the student or situations containing new elements as compared to the situation in which the abstraction was learned. . . . Ideally, we are seeking a problem that will test the extent to which an individual has learned to apply the abstraction in a practical way (p. 125).

Similarly, in describing synthesis, the authors of the taxonomy research argue that the student must apply knowledge by developing a completely unique product or performance, noting, “It is obvious that the student must have considerable freedom in defining the task for himself/herself, or in redefining the problem or task.”


Example #4

In psychology and education, learning is commonly defined as a process that brings together these facets:

1) learning is a process that focuses on what happens when the learning takes place. Explanations of what happens constitute learning theories. A learning theory is an attempt to describe how people and animals learn, thereby helping one to understand the inherently complex process of learning.

a) it provides a vocabulary and a conceptual framework for interpreting the examples of learning that we observe.

b) it suggests where to look for solutions to practical problems. The theories do not give us solutions, but they do direct our attention to those variables that are crucial in finding solutions.

2) cognitive aspects of learning

3) emotional aspects of learning

4) environmental influences over learning

5) experiences in ones learning

6) the sub-purposes of learning are: a) to acquire knowledge, b) to enhance knowledge, c) to make changes in one’s knowledge, skills, values, and world views.


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