Teaching for Understanding in Higher Education: A Framework for Developing Literacy within a TESOL Context


The semester-long project described in this paper involved a group of nineteen first-year Higher Diploma Mechatronics students. The project was developed using the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Teaching for Understanding (TfU) framework (see Wiske, Franz, & Breit, 2005). Each student shaped their contribution by choosing a subtopic of the larger topic area of technology. They then refined and expanded their focus through a student-directed reading portfolio approach, and then produced an initial draft of a 1000-word research paper which was then developed and combined into a class book. In TfU, this extended process is referred to as a unit. It should be noted that unlike a typical unit in an ESL textbook, a TfU unit is a building block that encapsulates Understanding Goals that aim to address overarching curricular or course outcomes.

The primary goal of the unit was to develop literacy skills through generating genuine interest in a topic, essentially getting the students to want to read and write. The secondary aim was to cultivate and develop a sense of global awareness through the reflective lens of technology.

These general aims were expressed as four Teaching for Understanding overarching goals:
1. How can researching the history and geography of technology improve our English?
2. How can becoming more aware of international technology build my background knowledge as an engineer?
3. What can the history of the world teach us about modern engineering?
4. How can researching the history and geography of technology develop my sense of global awareness?

It should also be noted that the unit was strongly interdisciplinary: two members of the Engineering Faculty were also closely involved with the two English Faculty authors of this paper.

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