Teaching for understanding – Education Essay
Understanding is one of the most cherished goals of education. Teaching for understanding can bring knowledge to life by requiring students to manipulate knowledge in various ways. For instance, understanding a historical
event means going beyond the facts to explain them, explore the remote causes, discuss the incident as different people might see it from their own perspectives, ans skeptically critique what various sources say.
History of Teaching for Understanding:
A number of years ago, several colleagues at Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed the Teaching for Understanding framework, which centers on the idea of performances of understanding (Blythe & Associates, 1998; Gardner, 1999; Perkins & Blythe, 1994) and investigated the development of learning processes in children, adults, and organizations since 1967. Today, named, Project Zero is building on this research to help create communities of reflective, independent learners; to enhance deep understanding within disciplines; and to promote critical and creative thinking. Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.
The research programs are based on a detailed understanding of human cognitive development and of the process of learning in the arts and other disciplines.
They place the learner at the center of the educational process, respecting the different ways in which an individual learns at various stages of life, as well as differences among individuals in the ways they perceive the world and express their ideas.
Teaching for Understanding or, now a days named PZ (Project Zero) has passed through several stages:
l. Conceptual Groundwork (1967-1971):
During its early years, PZ consisted of a loose collection of 10-15 research assistants and senior scholars. Included in this group were: psychologist Paul Kolers, philosopher Israel Scheffler, literary analyst Barbara Leondar, and Howard Gardner and David Perkins, as founding (and sometimes uncompensated) research assistants. The group met regularly to discuss philosophical, psychological, and conceptual issues in the arts and art education. From the first, the Project took a cognitive view of the arts, viewing artistic activity as involving mental processes fully as powerful and subtle as those used in the sciences or public policy. In that sense, the Project reflected the Cognitive Revolution of the time–countering both the behaviorist past of psychology and the overly romantic view of the arts as matters of mystery, emotion, or entertainment. The “Bible” for this period was Goodman’s influential Languages of Art (1968). During this early period position papers were written, and modest experiments were undertaken. The results of this first phase of work are captured in a final report for the U.S. Office of Education, prepared by Goodman, Perkins, and Gardner, called Basic Abilities Required for Understanding and Creation in the Arts (1972).
During the first years of PZ, Goodman also served as impresario for a dozen memorable lecture-performances at GSE. The purpose of these lecture-performances was to introduce GSE students, and the Harvard community more broadly, to the cognitive processes that characterize artistic planning, performance, and production. In later years, Goodman continued to serve as producer for a series of artistic activities and events at Harvard: these included newly commissioned multimedia performances of John Updike’s Rabbit Run (1970), multimedia presentations inspired by Katharine Sturgis’ drawing series Hockey Seen, and Picasso’s drawings after Velasquez. Goodman was also catalytic in the formation of the Harvard Summer School Dance Program and the Harvard Business School Program in Arts Management.
2. Empirical Research in Cognitive and Developmental Psychology (1971/2-1983):
In 1971, Goodman announced his intention to retire from PZ. He told Gardner and Perkins that they could direct the project–quipping, in characteristic fashion, “that means you can raise the money from now on.” At first, Perkins took on the directorship and he was joined in 1972 by Gardner. During the following decade, Gardner, Perkins, and a small group of researchers that included Laurie Meringoff (Brown), Ellen Winner, and Dennie Wolf focussed their attention principally on empirical work in the area of cognitive psychology, with a continuing emphasis on artistic issues. An informal division of labor took place, with Gardner and colleagues focussing primarily on developmental issues and populations, while Perkins and colleagues worked primarily with adult artists (and other adult populations). Results of this work can be found in many books and articles, and a number of collections, including Perkins and Leondar The Arts and Cognition (1977) and Gardner and Perkins Art Mind and Education (1989).
During this period, much of PZ research was focussed on the arts. Yet across the organization, there was an increased desire to examine issues that went beyond the arts, to look at issues like problem solving, critical thinking, and brain organization. Even in these cases, however, researchers typically were informed by the artistic focus of PZ.
3. The Turn to Education (1983-1993):
In 1983, the influential report A Nation at Risk was issued by the U.S. Department of Education. This report catalyzed a lengthy re-examination of American public education as well as newly energized research and development efforts on educational issues at the University Level. PZ had always been housed at the Graduate School of Education and various members had been involved in educational questions and research over the years. Nonetheless, by 1990 PZ had a very different feeling than it had in 1970 (philosophical and conceptual) or in 1980 (primarily psychological research funded by governmental grants). The staff was larger (an average of 50 persons, rather than 20); more of the staff had backgrounds in education rather than in psychology or other scholarly disciplines; and more of the research and development was of a distinctly applied nature. Funding came increasingly from private foundations. At this time, PZ became involved with schools that were based on multiple intelligences; “smart schools” that encouraged creative and critical thinking; and collaborations like ATLAS, that included the Coalition of Essential Schools, the School Development Program, and the Education Development Center.
In 1992, PZ celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary at a gala at the Fogg Art Museum. A few hundred individuals attended. Among the speakers were founder Goodman, long term friend Jerome Bruner, and Harvard Deans of Education Theodore Sizer, Patricia Graham, and Jerome Murphy. At the time it was evident that PZ had gone through a number of changes. Compared to the early years, it was much larger; more empirically oriented; extended well beyond the arts; and had a strong applied division, which worked in the schools, museums, and other educational institutions.
4. The Maturing of PZ (1993-2003): PZ has always been self-supporting. In the 1960s and 1970s support came chiefly from the federal government (NSF, NIH). Since the early 1980s support has come increasingly from private foundations.
Thanks in significant part to core support from the Atlantic Philanthropic Services Co., Inc. (now The Atlantic Philanthropies), PZ had the opportunity in the last decade to consolidate and mature. We built up a strong central “core” administration. The former “Development Group” (led by Gardner) and “Cognitive Skills Group” (led by Perkins) gave way to a loosely knit but cohesive organization with many internal and external ties and arrangements. PZ became much more prominent on the national and international scene. Details on this most recent period constitute the remaining parts of this report.
During the 1990s, Project Zero went through various attempts at reorganization. Each of these phases advanced PZ, and, in retrospect, each seemed a necessary stage of growth. In 2000, Steve Seidel was chosen to be the new Director. Later that year, Cynthia Quense joined Steve as the Administrative Director; Gardner and Perkins were given the honorary title of Senior Director, and continue to function as key advisors and members of the Steering Committee.