This page introduces the Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) framework. TRU provides a research-based response to the question,
“What are the attributes of equitable and robust learning environments – environments in which all students are supported in becoming knowledgeable, flexible, and resourceful disciplinary thinkers?”
The answer, which resonates with what we know as teachers and researchers, appears in distilled form in Figure 1. The quality of a learning environment depends on the extent to which it provides opportunities for students along the following five dimensions:
(1) The richness of disciplinary concepts and practices (“the content”) available for learning;
(2) Student sense-making and “productive struggle”;
(3) Meaningful and equitable access to concepts and practices for all students;
(4) Means for constructing positive disciplinary identities through presenting, discussing and refining ideas; and
(5) The responsiveness of the environment to student thinking.
What you’ll find in this website
The Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) community has developed a collection of tools for teachers, coaches, administrators to support the improvement of teaching, and tools and papers to support researchers in developing deeper understandings of teaching and how to enrich it. This page introduces the framework and some of its key tools. Most of the tools are available in mathematics-specific and domain-general versions.
Where did these ideas come from and how can they be useful?
There are huge literatures on teaching and learning, and on “good things” that should happen in classrooms. There is also a wide range of frameworks for observing classrooms. The motivation for TRU was to organize that knowledge so that it is easily understood, organized, and used. The five focal dimensions of TRU have the following properties:
- They are comprehensive. If a learning environment supports student learning along these dimensions, then the students who emerge from that environment will be knowledgeable, flexible, and resourceful thinkers and learners.
- Each dimension can be the focus of coherent professional development. Departments, schools, and districts can organize themselves in ways to make systematic improvements.
- Together, they provide a language and a framework for inquiring into instruction and improving it – not a set of “recipes” telling teachers what they should do.
TRU contains no “thou shalts,” in that it does not prescribe what should happen in the classroom – there are many different ways for teachers to create powerful learning environments and no one “right way” to teach. The key idea is that TRU specifies the attributes of learning environments in which students flourish.
Classroom instruction, no matter how powerful, can always be enriched. It will be enhanced if, as a matter of routine and habit, teachers, coaches, and administrators take the five dimensions of TRU into account when planning, implementing, and reflecting on instruction.
Improving teaching is not easy, but knowing what to focus on can be a big help. Engaging in systematic and collaborative reflection on: disciplinary ideas; on ways to open up those ideas to students; on ways to provide all students opportunities for sense making; on providing opportunities for students to express their understandings and build on their own ideas and those of others; and to adjust instruction in the light of the understandings that students reveal, will result in the ongoing enhancement of instruction. Professional learning communities that focus on what counts will produce sustained improvement in teaching and in student understanding.