Understand, Know, Do: inspiring meaningful learning

Understand, Know, Do: inspiring meaningful learning

Te Poutāhū is leading a refresh of the national curriculum, incorporating a framework of ‘Understand, Know, Do’ to help create meaningful learning opportunities.


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The refresh of The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa aims to inspire and guide the kind of learning that will enable young people to be confident, connected, and actively involved members of society.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and Te Takanga o Te Wā mark the first step towards the changes in the respective curriculum documents. The draft Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum content signals a move from an outcomes-focused curriculum to a progression-focused curriculum, one that recognises ways in which learners’ knowledge, understanding, and capabilities grow and deepen over time.

The ‘Understand, Know, Do’ framing supports this approach with its three elements: understand: the big ideas; know: rich contexts for exploring the big ideas; do: practices that bring rigour to learning. These elements don’t need to be used in a certain sequence, instead they enhance each other. Students deepen their understanding of the big ideas as they explore the context (know) using the critical inquiry practices (do). When the three threads are woven together, they create the learning all ākonga should get the opportunity to experience, learning that cannot be left to chance.

‘Understand, Know, Do’ will be applied to all learning areas as they are refreshed, making it easier for teachers to explore opportunities to integrate across curriculum areas.

Barbara Ala’alatoa, principal of Sylvia Park School in Auckland, says ‘Understand, Know and Do’ has always been a fundamental part of their inquiry process.

“’Understand’, ‘know’ and ‘do’ are of equal importance; they need each other,” says Barbara. “Any understanding, any inquiry that is absent of knowledge – the ‘know’ – runs the risk of being fluff, and any inquiry that is absent of the big and enduring and connecting ideas – the ‘understand’ – runs the risk of being irrelevant to our learners in the here and now.

“Any inquiry that is absent of the practices that bring rigour to learning – the ‘do’ part – runs the risk of not motivating, challenging and engaging our learners, let alone inspiring them to act on what they’ve learned.

“When we deliver equally on these, our students will be informed. They will be active and passionate learners who will go on to make a difference in the world,” she explains.

The school incorporated ‘Understand, Know, Do’ framing into the school’s inquiry, ‘Keep calm and carry on: how do we deal with conflict?’ which drew on the 100-year commemoration of World War I.

“Now that’s something everybody can connect to. Learners could make comparisons to stories about reaching agreements to end conflicts, or ways in which people supported each other through conflict. Suddenly, World War I meant something to them. It also gave the learners a sense of connection, identity and belonging by learning about and relating to a really important event, in our place, Aotearoa.”

For the full Gazette article, related podcast and information on the curriculum refresh, click here.