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Understanding What We Mean by “Understanding”

May 24, 2012

Teacher Musings:

I recently read an interesting blog post in edutopia entitled What Exactly Is “Understanding?” And How Do We Assess It?   The post discusses some of the inherent issues that come up when assessing students, especially for higher level skills.  These include defining what we mean by “understanding” something and making sure that the assessments we give truly allow students to show that “understanding” in multiple ways.  One line that stood out to me in particular was

“The first [strategy to mitigate confusion around “understanding” and assessment]  is to be aware of the ambiguity of the term “understands,” and not to settle for just paraphrasing it in overly-simple words and phrases like “they get it” or “proficiency.”

This is an aspect of teaching I find incredibly challenging, yet it is also the cornerstone of the work I do.  Before I can plan any lessons, or develop any assignments, I need to honestly and carefully think about what it is I want my students to be able to do when they leave my class.  Over time, I have decided that I mean the following when I say that students should “be able to do” something:

– They should be able to demonstrate that skill in multiple settings or situations.

– They should be able to demonstrate that skill independently, not only when they are given scaffolds from me.

When I think about my real objectives for students, the real things that I expect them to walk of out my class able to do, these criteria of “multiple settings” and independence are at the heart of it.

This is one of the reasons I struggle to work with state, common core, or other standards sometimes.  I see those standards as a starting place, but I also know that my job as an educator is to have as clear and h9nest a vision as possible for “understanding” so that I can move my students towards that “understanding.”

So, when people ask me what standard I am “covering” or what assignments students are doing, or what book we are “doing” for our unit, I feel confused.  I really think that my goal as an educator is to make sure my students truly leave my class able to do some things independently that they were not able to do when they entered my class.  Everything else I do is about the methods I use to get students there and measure their progress.

Yummy Stuff:

Lately Vidalia onions have been on sale, which is super exciting for me since it means we have been making one of my favorite dishes -Vidalia Onion Quiche!  Most vegan quiches call for cashews for that fantastic creamy texture.  However, the G-man is allergic to cashews, so that is out for us.  We usually substitute almonds, and that seems to work just fine!  So, here is our quiche recipe adapted from Vegan Brunch.

Vidalia Onion Quiche with Almonds

1 nine-inch pie crust (store-bought or homemade.  We use the pie crust recipe from Vegan on the Cheap
3 pounds of vidalia onions, diced
3/4 cup of almonds

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pound extra-firm tofu

1) Pre-heat the oven to 350.  If you are using homemade crust, roll it out into a 9 inch pie pan.  Poke the bottom of the dough with a fork 5-10 times, and then bake it for 10 minutes.  Pull it out of the oven and set it off to the side.  (Skip this step if you are using store-bought crust)
2) Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the oil and onions and toss to coat.  Partially cover and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Onions should turn a deep yellow/light brown color as they caramelize – but don’ t let them burn!
3) Meanwhile, process the almonds in a food processor until they are fine crumbs.  Add the salt and nutmeg and crumble the tofu into the food processor as well.  Process until relatively smooth.  When the onions are done, add 1/2 cup of onions to the food processor and pulse a few more times to combine.
4) Transfer the tofu mixture to a bowl and fold in the rest of the onions.  Then, transfer the whole mixture to the pie crust and bake for 40 minutes (at 350).  Allow the quiche to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving.  This makes a fantastic dinner with a nice green salad!

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