M.T. Gomez1, A.M. Ternent de Samper2, J. Alba2, T. Ghitis2

1Universidad de Los Andes (COLOMBIA)
2Universidad de La Sabana (COLOMBIA)
The Teaching for Understanding framework (TfU), developed at Project Zero of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, may be an effective vehicle for putting into practice contemporary pedagogical conceptions. A group of researchers from Los Andes and La Sabana Universities and Fundacies (a not-for-profit education group) in Bogota, Colombia are carrying out a joint research project to determine the contribution of the framework to the transformation of teachers’ conceptions and practices.

During the first phase, the group analyzes the narratives of educators who have been involved in the implementation of the framework and teacher training in Colombia and Latin America since 1994. The results provide a greater understanding of how it can be adapted to these contexts, the factors that contribute to successful implementation, and its impact on teaching practices.

TfU is a theory of action within a constructivist perspective. It is a pedagogical approach that strives to close the gap between ideas and action. In it, understanding is defined as the ability to use knowledge flexibly and creatively to solve problems and generate products in different contexts.

It is based on three essential questions:
1. What do we really want our students to understand and why?
2. What will we ask our students to do in order to develop deep understandings?
3. How will we, as teachers, and our students know that they are really developing those understandings?

The experts’ narratives show us that the use and study of the framework has led them to a better understanding of the teaching and learning process and to highly effective teaching practices in many different settings.

Above all, using the framework is a powerful way to modify traditional approaches to education so that they become more aligned with contemporary pedagogical thought by:
• Placing teacher and student reflection at the center of teaching and learning.
• Emphasizing active knowledge over rote memory and learning for life over learning for a test.
• Recognizing that students must be active agents in their own learning and that of others.
• Acknowledging shared responsibility of all stakeholders in assessment.
• Enriching teaching with collaboration of students as well as teachers in all aspects of the learning process..
• Establishing all manner of deep and meaningful connections.
• Appreciating errors as a way of learning.
• Making learning and the learner visible through the use of protocols, thinking routines and documentation.
• Realizing that understanding is not exclusively an intellectual exercise, but includes all the human dimensions, especially the development of autonomy.
• Embracing the fact that we cannot be teachers without being, first and foremost, learners.

All this requires transformations that are very difficult to achieve. There are many personal, professional, institutional and cultural barriers that must be confronted in order to create an educational system that meets the present and future demands of society. A vision of education that focuses on understanding may be one of the ways in which those goals can be attained.