14: Six Facets of Understanding





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  1. Explanation: 
    • Can describe apt theories and illustrations that provide knowledgeable accounts of events, actions, and ideas
    • How does this work?  To what is this connected? What does this imply?  How did this happen?
  2. Interpretation:
    • Can offer up narratives and translations that provide meaning
    • What does it mean? Why does it matter?  What does it illustrate?  Why does this make sense?  How does this relate to me?
  3. Application:
    • Ability to use knowledge in varied and novel contexts
    • How and where can I use this skill, process or idea? How should my thinking be modified to meet the constraints of the situation?
  4. Perspective:
    • Critical, insightful and multiple points of view
    • From whose point of view?  What is assumed? What is justified or warranted? is there adequate evidence? Is it reasonable? What are the strengths and weaknesses of an idea? What are the limitation of an idea?  Is idea plausible?
  5. Empathy: 
    • Getting inside another’s feelings and worldview
    • How does it seem to you? What do they see that I don’t? What do I need to experience if I am to understand? What was the author feeling and trying to make me feel?
  6. Self knowledge:
    • knowing what one knows and doesn’t know
    • knowing how one’s thought patterns inform and also limit/prejudice understanding
    • How does who I am shape my views? What are the limits of my understanding? What are my blind spots? What am I prone to misunderstand because of my habits and prejudices?



The 6 facets of understanding can be used to investigate what understanding specific learning goals really means.  Knowing what facets of understanding apply to specific learning goals can help one design the right questions, appropriate assessments and learning tasks to scaffold and assess these goals.  The 6 facets can be used to evaluate the end products of projects.  Knowing what facets are required to develop good products can help one plan the appropriate content and 21st century scaffolding and assessments.

The 6 facets can also be used to create rich project contexts and scaffolding sequences that get students to understand learning goals at many levels.  These can also be used to get more ideas for the Advanced section of project rubrics.  The Proficient section could cover the standard as written.  The Advanced section could require the student to demonstrate concepts using 1 or more of the 6 facets listed above.

  • Analyze targeted standards – analyze nouns, verbs, and contexts in the standards
  • Determine which of the 6 facets best align / relate to targeted standards
  • Brainstorm what assessments and learning tasks go with the standards interpreted as written and interpreted through the lenses of the 6 facets that make the most sense
  • Design assessments and learning tasks that are aligned to standards and have high rigor level (involve several facets of understanding)
  • Implement learning tasks and assessments that are aligned to standards and employ several facets of understanding
  • Use assessments to give students feedback and make adjustments as needed
  • Gather evidence of student mastery of learning goals throughout the project
  • Analyze evidence of student mastery of learning.  Divide into 3 piles – low, medium, high.  Note common characteristics within each pile and see if these relate to supports / instructions in learning tasks.  Use this analysis to improve strategies in future projects.
  • Use a project planning form inspired by Understanding by Design to brainstorm contexts that naturally create opportunities for facets of understanding.  See 15 – Understanding by Design Project Planning Form

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