All too often, I’ll ask a student to do something, and when they do, I take comfort and pride in the fact that they did it. At those times, I find myself feeling there should be a ticker-tape parade for both of us! But then, sometime later, I ask that same student to apply that same skill, information or technique, and they can’t. It is at that moment I realize I have fallen into the trap of confusing compliance with understanding. Is a student doing something because I told them to, just to comply with my edict, rather than really and truly understanding why and how to do it? I think we need to be ever-vigilant of, and keenly aware of that incredibly significant distinction between the act of compliance and the insight that comes with understanding. Asking students to explain how to do something, to break the task down into finite steps, to apply it to new situations, to show another student how to do it, or to adapt it to suit another situation are just a few ways we can assess whether a student understands something, versus them simply parroting back what we told them to do.
Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education