35: Instructional Practices for Deepening Understanding (1 of 2)


Chapter 7 in Tomlinson, Carol A., and Jay McTighe.  Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2006. Print.




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  1. Use Essential Questions in Teaching
    • use essential (driving) questions to launch projects and revisit throughout the project
    • make questions provocative and student friendly
    • make questions point toward key understandings
    • Examples:
      • Math: Can everything be quantified?
      • Science: To what extent are science and common sense related?
      • Bio: How are form and function connected in the natural world?
    • Can use essential question as an open-ended pre-assessment at start of a project
    • Can use essential question as a diagnostic question throughout the project
    • Less is more – 1 to 5 essential questions per unit
    • Help students personalize the questions
    • Post essential questions in the classroom
  2. Use 6 Facets of Understanding as Instructional Tools: Use 6 facets of understanding to generate activities to explore content
    • 1 – Explain: demonstrate, derive, describe, design, exhibit, express, induce, instruct, justify, model, predict, prove, show, synthesize, teach
    • 2 – Interpret: analogies, critique, document, evaluate, illustrate, judge, make meaning of, make sense of, metaphors, read between the lines, represent, tell a story of, translate
    • 3 – Apply: adapt, build, create, debug, decide, design, exhibit, invent, perform, produce, propose, test, use
    • 4 – Perspective: analyze, argue, compare, constrast, criticize, infer
    • 5 – Empathy: assume role of, believe, be like, be open to, consider, imagine, relate, role-play
    • 6 – Self-knowledge: be aware of, realize, recognize, reflect, self-assess 
Exploring essential questions models how knowledge is made.  This contradicts the common misconception that knowledge was not made; it always existed.  Essential questions answer the WHY question for why knowledge and skills are important.


The six facets allow students to explore knowledge and deepen understanding in a variety of ways.  Ladders are false metaphors for learning.  The brain needs both higher order and lower order thinking skills to make sense and meaning of new material.  Lower order skills don’t always need to be presented first (example: we learned how to speak before we learned grammar).


Preparation Steps
  • Design provocative essential question(s) that are student friendly and open enough to serve as a pre-assessment and diagnostic tool
  • Post essential (driving) question(s) in the classroom
  • Decide what facets of understanding will be used to explore each learning target
  • Use verbs above (and research) to design activities that use several facets to explore learning
  • Use 6 facets to design and evaluate product rubrics.  See 6 facets question stems and 6 facets scaffolding ideas articles.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use essential question as an early journal prompt to pre-assess student perceptions and knowledge related to the project
  • Guide students to generate many questions related to essential questions and research these
  • Use essential question at strategic points in project to assess how student knowledge is progressing
  • Implement learning activities that are aligned to standards and leverage several facets of understanding
  • Use frequent formative assessments to give students specific feedback that they use to improve learning and products and to fine tune instruction.  See article on descriptive feedback.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students 6 facets and use it as a framework for students to design learning tasks that demonstrate their mastery of learning targets (these activities can replace re-tests)
  • Teach students to use 6 facets of understanding to reflect on their own learning and to explain which facets are helping them make a stronger deeper connections to learning targets



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