I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to get to the heart of a subject, the essence of a subject. I don’t know that we are doing enough of this in classrooms today. I was rereading Making Thinking Visible this weekend and the authors recommend making a list of all the things you do in the classroom each day and then analyzing what percentage of those activities are “authentic to the discipline.” Authentic activities would be the type of activities that are truly representative of work within that subject area.
Understanding comes when we get to that authentic place in the classroom. Understanding by Design uses the Six Facets of Understanding (interpretation, explanation, application, perspective, self-knowledge, and empathy) as a touchstone for aligning classroom practice. Assessing this type of understanding is difficult, especially when looking at perspective and empathy. But, assessing understanding through the lens of the Six Facets of Understanding ensures we are getting to the heart of a subject area.
When I consider social studies instruction I think about all the people I personally know who work in jobs that “do” history. Much of their work revolves around asking historical questions, making connections, developing perspective, and interpreting the past. Much of the work we ask our students to do in social studies does not fall into this category.
We need to do a better job of “doing” the authentic work of the subjects we teach, moving towards the heart of the matter.