Making Learning Whole

I am embarking on a new growth opportunity centering around Teaching for Understanding, a framework to help design instruction and assessment that supports deep understanding. The framework comes out of Project Zero and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I’ve enrolled in their online course and am currently also reading Making Learning Whole as part of a book study with our district administrators.

Here I reflect on how ‘Making Learning Whole’ relates to technology integration done well. In the book David Perkins outlines Seven Principles of Teaching. The first is ‘Play the Whole Game’.  Think of this as engaging students in project-based learning, problem-based learning, case studies and other opportunities where they are finding and solving problems around the big understandings of the unit. These types of performance based scenarios can easily lend themselves to technology integration as long as the parts (the technology bells and whistles) don’t interfere or take students away from the understanding. I often say during workshops to think of the 80:20 rule. 80% of any technology integrated unit is the learning part with only 20% on the technology part. For instance students love to present their findings using technology applications but make sure they aren’t spending more time designing their backgrounds then focusing on the information they are presenting. (Unless the purpose is on techniques of persuasion through layout and design.)

It is important to note that these performance based scenarios also often don’t need technology to be done well. Remember purpose of learning first, then the tools. Technology can offer wonderful opportunities for students to collaborate and communicate globally, but often face-to-face role-playing and debate is just as important.

David Perkins also notes ‘the whole game’ need not be the big game. This is an important distinction. I have heard from teachers before that they ‘don’t have time to do a performance/project that takes on a life of its own and weeks to complete.’ They often will say I need to continue covering the content and move on to the next unit. The important idea here is engaging students in meaningful activities that make them think and solve problems around the knowledge they are learning. This can easily be smaller activities done that allow students to engage in problem finding and solving throughout the unit. We know that rote recall and memorization of facts, or parts, won’t allow students to truly understand the key ideas of the content. They need to ‘Play the Whole Game’, applying what they learn to solve meaningful problems.