2. Understanding level
The key figures in developing teaching and learning at understanding levels are Herbart, Judd Morrison and Bruner J S.
Herbart mentions three forms of mental reality which play an important role in teaching learning at the understanding level. They are sense impressions, images and affective elements of pleasure and pain. In Herbart’s arrangements, the teacher is conceived as an architect as well as the builder of the minds of the students by manipulating ideas to construct student’s circle of thought. He advocated five steps of teaching: preparation, presentation, comparison, generalization and application.
Morrison very clearly stated that understanding is not simply being able to recall something, it is not mere generalization deduced from specific facts, it is insight into how it may be used in future situations.
Morrison asserted that the outcome of all teaching is ‘ Mastery’ and not memorization of facts. He proposed a unit plan, each unit representing an insight which is relatively complete in itself.
Bruner J S assigns a functional approach to the problem of teaching at the understanding level. He observes that human beings possess tremendous capacity to discriminate objects or processes in their environment. An individual can use common sense to make sense of his environment by enabling himself to select – from an almost infinite number of discriminate objects and events –those which appear to have something in common.
Underlying psychological theories
i. The Herbartian theory of apperception and its famous five steps of teaching
In the spirit of this theory, the teaching at the understanding level requires a systematic presentation of the subject relating it well with the previous knowledge of the students. Herbart tried to emphasize understanding level teaching through his famous five steps of teaching. Through his first step preparation, the previous knowledge of the students was explored and the need of learning some new was felt. In the second step, the systematic presentation of the subject matter or ideas was emphasizes by relating them with the old ones. In the third and fourth step of comparison and generalization, students are supposed to identify common elements in the presented material/factual information and make generalization statement, rule or principle. In the step five application, they are supposed to make use of the generalized principle by applying it in a particular novel situation. In this way. Herbart, through his systematic steps tried to put teaching-learning at the understanding level by making the statements
a. To understand individual facts
b. To move from the particular facts to generalized principle
c. To use generalized principle to acquire new facts or seek their application in day-to-day life.
ii. Theory of insight or gestalt field theory
In the spirit of the theory of insight, understanding level teaching requires
i. To perceive the situation, i.e. the presented factual information as a whole,
ii. To identify relationship of common elements or difference between the presented body of facts, the new ideas and the old ideas,
iii. To gain generalized insights which can be applied in problematic situation both in and outside of the school.
The teaching act performed at the understanding level is aimed to achieve the following objective:
i. Knowledge objective :
Acquisition of required factual information or body of facts.
ii. Understanding objective:
Under this objective the learners are able:
a. To see relationship between acquired facts,
b. To comprehend the meaning of the acquired facts or factual information,
c. To identify the similarities and dissimilarities between the acquired facts,
d. To seek generalization out of the specific facts,
e. To apply the generalized fact, rule or principle for learning new facts in practical life situations.
Classroom Implications of Teaching at the Understanding level
To make teaching- learning meaningful at the understanding level, the teacher must keep in view the following points:
i. Objectives must be kept very clear.
ii. Proper role of practice must be understood.
iii. Unproductive motivational techniques should be avoided.
iv. Lesson plans should be used properly.
v. Students and lesson must be paced advantageously.
vi. The significance of spiral curriculums should be recognized.
vii. Programmed learning and machine teaching should be given a fair trial for teaching at the understanding level.
Nature of the subject matter and its presentation
The subject matter for the understanding level teaching is quite structured in terms of planning sequential and organized presentation and meaningful learning. It needs to be linked with the previous knowledge of the students on one hand and with its utilization for acquiring new facts and application to practical life.
Role of the teacher
Like memory level teaching the teacher plays a quite dominant and authoritarian role at the understanding level of teaching. This type of teaching is also too much subject centered and hence, teacher has to pay his full attention in presenting the subject matter to his students to attain the desired understanding objectives besides the knowledge objective. He has to take care of the fact that the students gain complete mastery over the subject matter in term of its full understanding and generalized insight rather than its mere memorization, i.e. retention and reproduction of the memorized facts.
Role of the learner
The learner does not have a passive role here as in the case of memory level teaching, he has to remain active in acquiring the desired understanding of the learned facts. However, the key of the teaching-learning process lies well in the hands of the teacher. The students have to act and interact within the framework set up by the teacher for realizing the set objectives of his teaching.
Nature of motivation
Although purpose is always involved in any understanding level of teaching, yet the nature of the motivation here is largely extrinsic as in the case of memory level teaching.
The methods employed
The methods employed at the understanding level of teaching, on one hand, they may work as teacher and subject centered and on the other hand, may help in realizing simultaneously both the understanding and knowledge objectives. Therefore, lecture method added by demonstration or explanation, narration helped by question answer method and inductive method followed by deductive approach, and analytic method integrated with synthetic approach suit the very nature and purpose of teaching-learning carried out at the understanding level.
The testing device used
The teaching task carried out at the understanding level requires a more comprehensive evaluation programme than the memory level of teaching which is largely confined to the testing of recall or recognizing ability. Besides knowledge objective, understanding coupled with the motor skill of making use of the learned principle and ability to apply them in solving problems in and outside the classroom is also to be tested here with the help of well-planned oral, written and practical examinations. However, emphasis is laid on the desired test to know the ability to analyze, synthesize, compare, generalize and apply the generalized principles for deducing new facts and solving novel problems. For this purpose, short answer type format of question is preferred over the objective type question format.
Merits of teaching at understanding level
i. Understanding level teaching helps the students in the acquisition of the facts or information more effectively than the memory level. Retention is quite long as it is accompanied by clear understanding of the facts or information.
ii. It helps students to learn generalized rules, principles or theories built up on the basis of individual facts or special examples. Such generalized insight acquired by them works as an instrument or a tool. T proves quite useful not only in the acquisition and interpretation of new facts, but also in problematic situation in and outside the school.
iii. Understanding level teaching trains and equips them for acting more intelligently in proceeding on the path of learning. They get proper opportunity for the development of their cognitive abilities through various acts like analyzing, synthesizing, comparing, drawing inferences, making generalizations, applying rules and principles etc. performed at this level of teaching.
iv. Understanding level teaching through the generalized insight equips the students with a mental kit of rules and principles. Such kit proves quite useful in carrying out the teaching activities at the reflective level and also in turning students as masters and experts in their respective fields.
v. It provides opportunities for organized and systematic teaching and learning, best suited for the existing schools situations of our country. The return in terms of educational investment and output in such teaching are maximum in comparison to other levels of teaching.
i. The teaching at the understanding level is more or less teacher centered and subject centered rather than being child centered. Despite the best efforts, students do not necessarily learn the way teachers think they are teaching them.
ii. Students do not get the required freedom for independent thinking, discovery and problem solving.
iii. The motivation is largely extrinsic in nature and the student’s ego is hardly involved in such type of teaching.
iv. The result of such teaching are always judged in terms of the fixed specific responses to highly specific knowledge and skills acquired through mechanized repetition and drillwork or as taught by the teacher in the rigid and controlled teaching-learning situations. Such type of teaching-learning environment and evaluation pattern can’t help in the development of higher cognitive abilities, including creating and independent problem solving abilities among students.