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The Six Facets of Understanding Essay

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Updated: May 10th, 2019

Understanding by Design (UBD) is an art concept that emphasizes the role of a teacher in designing a student’s learning. It helps in contriving effective learning activities through effective assessment of student understanding, peer review of the curriculum, and collaboration. Understanding, as a concept, is different from the design of a unit of study for understanding.

Understanding is the “deepening and development” of the student knowledge on fundamental concepts and ideas in a given discipline. It involves the concepts about a topic that students should comprehend during instruction. Student understanding is achieved through the use of “complex yet authentic opportunities” easy to interpret and apply from a student’s perspective.

Thus, the ability of the students to apply or transfer essential aspects of their learning within appropriate contexts implies student understanding. Wiggins and McTighe identify six facets that serve as indicators of understanding viz. the ability to interpret, explain, apply, empathize, change perspective, and self-assess their learning (2001, p. 52).

In other words, understanding is earned by the students and allows them to apply their learning. In contrast, the design of a unit for understanding involves the curriculum development that focuses on achieving particular desired learning goals.

According to Wiggins and McTighte, effective curriculum design must reflect a three-stage process known as “backward design”, which first clarifies the learning goals and assessments before designing the classroom activities for the understanding unit (2001, p. 81)

The Six Facets of Understanding and Art Curriculum

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe provide a learning framework that helps teachers plan lessons for student understanding of given ideas and concepts during classroom instruction. In particular, each of the six facets of understanding has implications on curriculum design. These six facets, which include interpretation, empathy, explanation, application, self-knowledge and perspective, reflect the standards of Visual and Performing Arts.

In arts, the unit plan format should include the standards, learning objectives, context, assessment, learning sequence, and summative assessment for each standard. The art curriculum framework involves four strands viz. perception, cultural heritage, creative expression, and evaluation.

The facet of explanation involves providing of knowledgeable account of ideas or actions and is aligned with the perception strand during instruction. Interpretation, in an art context, involves translations or narratives that have meaning and thus a form of creative expression.

Similarly, application and self-knowledge facets relate to creative expression of original works of art. Perspective facet involves making evaluations of personal as well as other people’s artistic works. Empathy, in art’s context, involves the ability to value and understand various cultures or historical events.

In the classroom context, the six facets of understanding provide evidence of student understanding of concepts or theories. Explanation occurs when the teacher offers a thorough account of some facts, data, or phenomena during a learning session.

Interpretation involves meaningful translations or revelations from a personal or historical perspective regarding certain events or ideas using analogies, models, and other teaching aids. In the classroom, this facet manifests itself during discussions of experiences or the lesson’s text.

With regard to application, in instructional context, the students should effectively use the ideas in diverse contexts especially through innovations or authentic tasks (Wiggins, & McTighte, 2001, p. 134). In addition, in the classroom, the students should see an issue from multiple perspectives through a structured question/answer approach.

The student should also evaluate contrasting ideas and develop insights during learning. This can be achieved through simulations or direct experiences in addition to coursework. Moreover, the students should have self-knowledge about the factors that influence their own understanding of a particular concept through encouraging students to recognize their own learning style.

Teaching Strategies that Promote Understanding

To enhance critical thinking, developing lessons that integrate critical thinking and problem solving is paramount. For students, the lessons should aim at exposing unexamined assumptions and their possible implications. In this way, the student will develop critical views with regard to common theories, feelings, or beliefs.

Administrators, workshops, or conferences should aim at sensitizing managers especially with regard to decision-making. In essence, crucial decisions should involve brainstorming sessions. In addition, the decision making process should be horizontal to incorporate everyone’s views in order to find a solution for a particular problem.

Additionally, the community empowerment or educational programs should incorporate the perspective facet of understanding to allow people to develop multiple-perspective approach regarding their beliefs or culture.


Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2001). Understanding by Design. New York: Prentice Hall.

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