Learning and Understanding in the Classroom

Computer artwork of a frontal view of the brain with a neural network of nerve cells firing in the back. (Getty/Science Photo Library – PASIEKA)

Being an effective teacher in the classroom requires great skill at being able to recognize where your students are coming from to facilitate the learning process. While reading the first three chapters of Bransford, Brown, and Cocking’s (2000) How People Learn for my graduate course, “Teaching Understanding with Technology”, I was reminded of the importance of always being aware of a student’s understanding throughout the learning process. In my essay, I clarify the differences between learning and understanding and show that both are constantly changing. By examining the differences in techniques experts and novices use to learn new information, I have outlined a few practices that should be present in our classrooms so educators can ensure their students are able to apply/transfer the information they have taught them to future situations.

5 thoughts on “Learning and Understanding in the Classroom

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  1. I enjoyed reading your essay. Two things struck me in particular about it. First, I agree that we often use learning and understanding interchangeably in education. for me though, I interpreted understanding as a deeper level of learning. For instance, you can learn what a term like “mitosis” or “savoir faire” means without being able to adequately explain or truly understand what they mean. Maybe a better way for me to explain that is to say that learning could be knowing something, and understanding is the ability to apply it in different contexts. I’m not sure about this though. It almost seems like we interpreted the terms in opposite ways.

    The second thing that struck me was what you wrote about meta-cognition. I think that teaching students HOW to be meta-cognitive is something we often overlook in education. In your essay, it sounds like you’d agree with me on that one. Modeling the meta-cognitive process for students I think is so critical. Interesting point!


    1. Hi, David! Thanks for your feedback. I do think we have different opinions on what ‘learning’ and ‘understanding’ mean, but at least the conversation is out there and continuing!


  2. First of all, this is a fantastic blog page. Looks like you’ve been at it a while! I enjoyed reading your essay about learning and understanding. I especially liked what you said about gathering research on our students. As a science teacher, I talk constantly to my students about gathering data and using it effectively to generate conclusions and support claims. However, I think using student data efficiently has been a struggle for me. I often feel that I’m on such a time crunch that I can’t use the results from formative assessments in a timely enough fashion to ensure that ALL students are ready for a test. This is why the concept of metacognition is so important. I agree with one of your last statements when you stressed the importance of students recognizing their own mistakes and engaging in their own learning process. Perhaps if I focus more on this aspect, students will more effectively recognize areas of weakness and better prepare themselves for assessments. Thanks for the food for thought! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Bridget 🙂 I completely relate to not feeling ‘good’ enough at formative assessments, but someone helped me realize that is just my own perception a few years ago and maybe what he told me will resonate with you too. Here’s the gist: we grew up where tests were the be all, end all, and our parents either put our papers with A’s on the fridge or scolded us for not getting an A. Today, as teachers, we should look at the entire school year as our preparation playing field, not just the next upcoming test. If a student is able to understand something weeks after a test, we’ve succeeded. Secondly, we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Ever. We are constantly making decisions based on the answers our students share, the faces they make, the conversations we overhear. We adapt our lessons. all. the. time. A lesson we started could be thrown out the window after the first 3 minutes prove it’s a bust, or a one-day experience may turn into three because the kids are learning and growing so much because they are completely into it. That’s using formative assessment well 🙂

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It reinforced my feeling from last week that I need to work on getting better at teaching metacognition. I’m glad I’m not alone!


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