Looking at Students' Conceptual Development in the Understanding Ideal

Throughout the Understanding module you will have been paying attention to students’ thinking and noticing changes in that thinking. Through the routines, students will be developing their skills in learning for understanding. At the same time, students are developing a richer and richer conception of understanding and what is involved. Each of the following closing activities provides an opportunity to learn what students have gotten out of the module and how their thinking has changed.

Activities: Closing and Reviewing

While the issue of understanding is always going to be present in classrooms, you may want to conclude the Understanding module with the opportunity for students to reflect on the topic and what they have learned. Some strategies for doing this include:

  • Students complete a concept map of understanding as they did at the beginning. Once they have their new maps completed, you can hand back their earlier maps and ask them to write or talk about how their ideas about understanding and how understanding is developed have changed.

  • Students write a letter of advice to a younger child explaining what understanding is, why it is important, and how one goes about developing understanding. The letter should offer practical advice that the reader can use and carry with them into future situations.

  • Students make a visual representation of understanding and write an explanation explaining the various aspects of their visual metaphor.

  • Students write about something they really wanted to understand and how they went about it.  They might contrast their process with what they might do now in the same situation.

Assessing Conceptual Change

Looking at students’ pre and post-concept maps can be very useful in assessing student growth and change. As you look at students’ maps, you may find it helpful to look for the following:

  • What new strategies for developing understanding do students list?  Have they incorporated the key thinking moves from the map? Are they using their own language for these moves? Are they elaborating upon them? Have they taken on a “performance view” of understanding as opposed to a possessive view? 

  • Do students show a greater awareness of the complexity of developing understanding? Do students show a sensitivity to the difference of developing understanding in different contexts?

  • Are students’ responses more elaborated, fleshed out, and/or connected to other parts of their thinking?

Here are examples of students’ concept maps that might be useful in thinking about conceptual development. View the powerpoint presentation for more information about assessing students' understanding maps.

Understanding Maps (Powerpoint presentation)


Grade 4 map

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Grade 5 map

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Grade 8 map

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Grade 10 map

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