“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” — Albert Einstein
Knowing and understanding are two sides of the same coin. They are both important, and they work together as essential elements on a student’s learning journey.
Knowing is about facts, while understanding is about concepts. Knowing is the ability to recall information. It asks for memorization or basic recall of data which have been previously presented, while understanding is the ability to make sense of information. It is about being able to apply what you have learnt to solve problems, make decisions or connect with the world. Knowing is about collecting building blocks (Quantitative). Understanding is the arranging and rearranging of the blocks to build something new (Qualitative). Knowing is surface-level, while understanding is deep. Knowing is about being able to repeat, while understanding is about being able to explain.
When analyzing student responses to the Verso check-in, whether by machine learning, a Verso learning specialist or collaboratively with peers in PLCs in our partner schools, a frequent observation is that students appear to value the sharing of facts acquired in a lesson rather than demonstrating understanding of the learning objective.
There may be a number of reasons for this, including:
In these classes it is also rare to see students reporting a level of challenge (on a scale of 1-5) that is higher than 2. Again this could be due to a number of factors, and as such has not been as useful as we would have hoped for the teacher in reflecting on their learning design, or for the student in understanding where to go next.
For this reason, we are trialing a new reflection question.
Instead of asking students to consider how challenging they found their learning, we have developed a simple taxonomy that allows students to think about where they are on their journey as a learner.
Students are now asked to select a statement on a sliding scale from 1-5 that best fits where they are on their learning journey. Every stage after stage 1 offers a success point. (Fig 1)
The taxonomy supports the transition from surface (Levels 2 and 3) to deep (Levels 3 and 4) and creates a shared language for learning.
Levels 2 and 3 require students to collect the building blocks that are required to be connected in levels 4 and 5. It is only at levels 4 and 5 that students can start to transition from knowing to being able to explain , apply and transfer.
It is intended that the taxonomy will allow students to think about their learning in a new way, whilst also presenting a common framework for evaluating and designing learning experiences. It will inform the development of success criteria and rubrics designed to lead students in successfully progressing through each stage of the learner journey and making the transition from “knowing about..” to being able to “demonstrate understanding of…”.
A large part of our work is focused on using research-based protocols to equip school leaders, coaches and teachers with the confidence and skills required to use student reflection data to inform high quality teaching and learning.
We have found that by organizing this work around the Data Wise Collaborative Improvement Process (developed by Harvard Graduate School of Education), schools become increasingly confident in making decisions about continuous professional inquiry focused
on the use of data and evidence of student learning.
The process is underpinned by 3 essential elements:
Prepare, Inquire, Act
An example of the impact this approach can have is seen in one of our partner middle schools in South Carolina. The school used Verso check-in data that showed 44% of students could clearly articulate the learning objective in lessons, whilst 32% could only do this in broad terms (E.g. “We are learning about the water cycle”) and 18% of students resorted to sharing agendas or activities they had been required to complete rather than what they were supposed to be learning. (Fig 1)
This data reflected similar findings obtained through lesson observations and student interviews. Teachers began working in their PLCs to consider aspects of their practice that may have been contributing to this student-centered problem, before considering possible solutions capable of connecting students more closely with their learning.
Each PLC decided to test one of 5 Verso strategies designed to engage students more deeply with all aspects of the learning objective. The school’s learning specialist modeled some of these strategies in classrooms and each PLC developed an action plan which clearly identified their chosen strategy, how they would build it into the lesson and the data they would use to evaluate impact.
The PLC teams agreed to try the strategies a few times in a variety of classes, coming together to share insights and make any amendments before running the final version with their classes for a clearly defined two week period, using their personal Verso check-in data to track impact.
Adopt, adapt or abandon?
At the end of the two weeks, the percentage of students who could clearly explain what they were learning had increased by 50% across the school. (Fig 2). In some learning areas this was much higher. The Verso data also showed that students reported a far more positive sense of self during class and a slightly higher level of challenge.
This measurable growth in impact has provided teachers with the confidence to implement other strategies from the Verso toolkit, building up a bank of different tools they can use to connect students more closely to the learning objective, cultivate curiosity, connect to prior learning or initiate student questioning.
The Verso Check-in data around the clarity of learning objective has continued to rise and currently sits at 70% with just 7% of students now task-focused.
Buoyed by their success, PLCs have now turned their attention to student self-assessment data from the Verso check-in (Fig 3). Teachers have identified a new student-centered problem as a focus for their next collaborative inquiry.
Fig 3. Just 25% of students who self-assessed as “Got it” could support their assessment with evidence of what they had learnt. Only 10% of students who were “Confused” or “Almost there” could use appropriate language to seek specific support from their teacher.
Although students now have a clearer understanding of what they are supposed to be learning, they appear to be struggling to provide evidence to support their self-assessment or explain where they are in order to seek specific support from their teacher.
Once again, PLCs are researching strategies and possible adjustments to practice that may be used to inform their next action plan. In this particular middle school, teachers are working with Verso to explore the use of single point rubrics, planning intentional opportunities for reflection and developing a narrative to connect planned activities to the learning objective.
This middle school case-study serves as a reminder that when teacher teams use feedback from students to collaboratively identify a common learning challenge that is specific and within their control, significant change can occur in a short space of time.
What’s more, the collaborative nature of the process and collective ownership of both the problem and potential solution, results in the impact of the work being sustained.
Click here to find out more about the Data Wise Process
Our Chief Academic Officer, Phil Stubbs has created the following activity as a professional learning opportunity for teacher sharing and collaboration.
This activity has been developed for an article authored by Keisha L. Bentley-Edwards, PhD.
Dr Bentley-Edwards is an Assistant Professor of General Internal Medicine and the Associate Director of Research for the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.
For more information on how to access Student Mode to use your Verso Teacher Account for professional learning, you can refer to the helpdesk article:
(Note: one teacher will need to create the class and run the activity, then provide the class code for other teachers to join as the students. Shared Classes are only available to Verso Premium subscription holders. If you would like more information on upgrading to the benefits of Verso Premium, please refer to our account comparison page.)