Knowing vs. Understanding


In education we always tell students to never stop learning…. and boy did I learn something HUGE from a simple sentence a few weeks ago.

Recently, I read a blog from an administrator where he stated something similar to this… There is a big difference between knowing and understanding.  This really got me thinking about my teaching through the years up to now.  It made me stop in my tracks and evaluate myself.  Are my students just knowing or are they really understanding? What is more important?  That they know the information. That they understand the information. That they both know and understand the information.

So I took that challenge and started to change some of the ways I approach learning with my students because one should… Never Stop Learning!

I decided that real learning is when you know the concept, but yet understand it enough that you can teach it too.

In the past few weeks I have been doing the “usual” teacher thing, answering questions my students have, but with a small twist.  As I answer a student’s question and move on, when the same question is asked I don’t answer it. I know strange right, not answering student questions.  This is where the change came in my teaching. I ask the student I just helped to come over, and I watch, listen, and guide as they explain to their friend how to know and understand the question.

What I have found is that true understanding comes from knowing. It has been interesting to watch them teach each other. It has been interesting to hear my teaching through them. It has been interesting to see them confidently stand and go to their friend in need.

Game changer for sure, but the learning didn’t stop there… I began to ponder myself as a teacher.

I always ask myself am I doing enough for each of them.  I am I really “getting” them the way they need me too.  Am I understanding them where they are or am I asking them to understand where I want them to learn?  Am I really understanding them or do I just know them?

These questions really got me pondering so much more than teaching… 

We as educators are always asking students to KNOW the information.  We are always asking them it they UNDERSTAND the information.  But….

Do we just KNOW our students or do we really UNDERSTAND our students?

I began to think of the 13 darlings I get to spend my days with Monday through Friday.  I thought about the parts of their lives I know about but don’t understand.  I thought about the moments I missed learning to understand them and not just know them.  I thought about how important each moment is….

As their teacher I get to spend many moments with them, but with that comes a huge unknown. The moments I miss. The moments I don’t know about. The moments that can make their day do a 180, not because I am not watching but because I am not there, so I don’t understand.

As my students walk the halls and spend time at recess, as much as I try to not let things happen, things are said and done.  Things that hurt a kid to their core. Things that change their perception of themselves. Things that play over and over in their heads while I am asking them to KNOW and UNDERSTAND.

As my students walk out the doors to go home, I don’t KNOW how their nights and weekends will go.  I don’t KNOW what battles their families are fighting.  I don’t know what “baggage” they will carry with them when they walk back through the doors the next morning or on Monday morning.

BUT… I can be better, much better at not just knowing or understanding them, but knowing how to understand them!

I can understand that I need to make my patience a little higher, because Sally had to go to her mom’s house this weekend and she loves both her parents so much that it hurts to be away from either of them.  She wants to master her math facts but she just misses her old life.

I can understand that math is not the most important thing for Johnny, because his buddies just made fun of his new shoes in the hall that his momma spent her paycheck on because the tape wasn’t holding them together anymore. Johnny wants to read those words but all he hears is the kids laughing at him.

I can understand that Suzy needs a little more understanding with her homework and late work, because she had to get her siblings to school this morning because mom and dad were at the hospital again. Suzy wants to be at school. Life is easier there, but home needs her more right now.

I can understand that Freddy is acting out because he can’t tell me that he misses his mommy, because he doesn’t know how to put into words how he is even feeling. He just knows if he acts out I will notice him and I will give him some attention that he craves.. good or bad.

I can understand that not all kids come to school with the same background, the same love, the same homes, carrying the same weight in their backpacks, but they all come to school with the same desire to be successful. It’s just the moments we miss that make that hard sometimes.

But not impossible…

What I can do is KNOW that I need to UNDERSTAND that all kids come to school wanting to learn. Every single one of them wants to be successful. It is just the “stuff” that they carry into our classrooms from the bus or car ride, the walk through the halls, or even the night before.  The circumstances that they can’t control that control their ability to KNOW and UNDERSTAND what I am teaching them.

I can control how I respond to Sally, Johnny, Suzy, and Freddy. AND it is in that moment,  that small moment, that I can control how they know and truly understand what I am teaching them… the academic concepts and the concept of you matter.  You matter more than the math book, but we will together learn! You matter and your learning will be successful, because I may not have your baggage, but I WILL help you carry it at school.

Teach your students to never stop knowing, understanding, and learning, and in turn NEVER stop learning, knowing, and understanding your students. They deserve it!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s