Teaching for Historical Understanding (TfHU): Developing a Discipline-based Curriculum Model at Tanjong Katong Secondary School, pp. 7 of 17

The design of the TfHU framework at TKSS was based on work done by leading proponents of the Teaching for Understanding project at Harvard Graduate School of Education (see Wiske, 1998; Blythe, 1998; Perkins, 1993) that focused on a pedagogy of understanding. In supporting a framework that focuses on the development of historical understandings, however, adaptations were made to the design. Nevertheless, the key guidelines and throughlines remained essential to the formulation of TK’s TfHU framework:

1) The first consideration that took place in the planning of the framework involved asking questions about the purpose or goal of learning. Before teachers can respond to any call to teach for understanding, they would need to be clear in their responses to some of these questions:

What are some possible generative topics you can teach?


  • What is worth understanding about this topic?
  • How can we foster understanding?
  • What important information or ideas that students must understand about this topic?
  • How can we tell what students understand?   
  • What skills do you want students to develop/apply to demonstrate understanding?

What are some understanding goals?


  • What questions/throughlines can you use to help students understand what they are learning and why?
  • What skills do you want students to develop, and what partial understandings can they demonstrate?
  • What knowledge do you want students to acquire, and how would this help students better understand the issue/topic/event?
  • What concept do you want your students to know, and how would this help students better understand the issue/topic/event?

At this stage of the TfHU planning process, teachers clarified the kinds of understandings they would like to achieve in teaching the topic they have identified. The example below provides an illustration of how the teachers went about the planning process. In this example, the teachers did several things: they selected a generative topic to be taught, identified the “big idea” they wanted to teach and the rationale for the teaching of that “big idea”, highlighted the understanding goals (which were couched in conceptual terms, i.e. Causation), explained the reasons for studying the reasons for Stalin’s rise to power, raised questions that students should think about in the course of the lessons, identified the skills that students were expected to develop by the end of the lesson sequence, and established some connections this topic had to a broader study of the rise of authoritarian governments during the inter-war years.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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