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Teaching for Understanding

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Teaching for understanding

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 focused

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 focusing

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 focused

on the



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