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Understanding

May 30, 2008

Hello again,

Understanding is the second element in the Revised Taxonomy. It reminds us that it is not enough that learners have remembered new material but that we must check they have really understood. Understanding new language takes place on...

... many levels so we need varied activities to ensure that all the implications have been assimilated. For example, the cultural implications of new material may need interpreting. Let’s say we have taught students some modal verbs including ‘should’ and ‘ought’. We can use these verbs to give advice to people and the denotative meaning is not difficult. However, they are fairly dogmatic verbs and have implications about the relationship between speakers and the situation in which they are appropriate. It is acceptable for, say, health professionals to give advice such as ‘you should stop smoking’; ‘you ought to lose weight’. But peers are more likely to use indirect language to advise each other: ‘if I were you…’ ‘don’t you think you could…’.
In other words, understanding language requires learners to think of various pragmatic uses that are not immediately obvious from meaning alone.

Summarising is a good way of checking understanding, not just of concepts, but also priorities and relationships between items. Inferring meaning is another way of helping students deal with the connotative meanings of new language: is the tone ironic, does item have antecedents, is it culturally significant?

Classifying information is another useful means of checking understanding. For example, a weekly vocabulary test might present learners with five or six head words (transport, fruit, furniture, emotions, vegetables) and they can be asked to list their new words under the appropriate category. Comparing items is a good way of exploring the finer points of meaning, between synonym, for example of items ranked for levels of formality. In comprehension questions, learners can be asked to give explanations of material to provide examples of certain types of language.

These are the kinds of activities that help reinforce learning by checking that students really understand what they have been taught.


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