Understanding by Design

14 Nov

Understanding By Design – Grant Wiggins and McTighe

How should teachers plan lessons? Wiggins and Mctighe suggest to teachers that to plan lessons effectively, we should plan our lessons backwards in three steps:

The First step is to Identify the Desired Results

The Second Step is to Determine the Acceptable Evidence

The Third Step is to Plan leaning experiences and instruction

Why plan backwards? When we plan lessons we need to plan learning experiencs that align with the outcomes or what we want students to achieve and assessment. Often planning is done where we include learning experiences that really have no relevance to what we want our students to know. Colin Marsh believes that if design is done backwards, it is more purposeful. In using backward design, we first decide what the task is that we want to be accomplished and then we work out how to get there.

Teachers are designers of curriculum and learning experiences. However, Wiggins and Mctighe believe that when we are planning lessons that we must think like assessors.

Many plan lessons by looking at the content first and then planning the lesson, trying to make the outcomes match the learning content, which leaves assessment as an after thought – not as a critical and important part of planning lessons. Assessment – both formative and summative – is an important part of the learning. Assessment should be about students demonstrating mastery or undestanding of what you need for them to learn.

Planning lessons should not be random, where we just choose learning experiences without seeing just how they fit into the learning. Students will be more engaged in the learning if they understand what the learning is meant to achieve. The content, the learning experiences and activities all should be to achieve a goal in learning.

Some critics of the backwards design believe that it places too much emphasis on outcomes and insufficient emphasis on selecting learning experiences. Other critics of the backwards design argue that many of its concepts are not new but derive from the works of Tyler and Bloom.

For example in the Objectives Model of curriculum development, Tyler believed design should be based on the 4 central questions – What educational purposes should the school seek to attain, What educational experiences can be provided that they are likely to attain, How can these educational experiences be effectively Organised and How can we determine if purposes are being allowed?

Dick and Carrey believe that we should see planning lessons as a system or a process where every component as learning, planning, assessment, outcomes – all are crucial parts of a system to create successful learning. When one of those parts does not make sense or is missing, then the whole system or process is weak and incomplete.

If we see curriculum design as a system, then we need to
– Identify an Instruction goal
– Conduct an analysis of our instruction
– Identify entry behaviours and characteristics
– Write performance objectives
– Developing criterion
– Developing on Instructional Strategy
– Develop and Select Instructions
– Design and conduct formative evaluation
– Revise instruction
– Conduct summative evaluation

By planning backwards, it encourages teachers to see that all of the components of the system or process align.

So where do we start?

We start planning by asking what are the outcomes that we want our students to achieve? What is worthy and requiring of understanding? What are the big ideas, the enduring concepts and theories that we want our students to learn and be able to carry over to other areas of learning.

The outcomes can also be based on what national or state standards and guidelines there are that must be achieved.

Teachers should be asking questions as to what extent does the results represent the big ideas of the discipline. Is the unit framed around enduring understandings and essential questions? It also asks teachers to what extent the potential to engage students.

In the second step Determine acceptable evidence, we must ask ourselves what kinds of evidence do we need to show that students have reached an understanding of the subject?

We have to remember that assessment needs to work alongside of the outcomes and the learning. Assessment must allow students to show that they have accessed the big idea and key concepts of the topic, not only the content.

There are 6 facets of understanding that shape assessment design – Explain, Interpet, Apply, Perspective, Empathy and Self Knowledge.

What assessment types would you use? Summative or Formative? It is important to remember that assessment must allow students to demonstrate that they have understood the big idea. Are there performance based assessments that you could use? Would you use authentic assessments as real life situations?

If you are differentiating assessment for Special Needs, ESL, or learning difficulties or even gifted students, are there assessment types other than standard tests in which student can demonstrate the learning? Could students use computer programs to demonstrate learning?

In the Third step we finally reach the planning of learning experiences and instruction. To effectively plan the lesson we have to ask what learning experiences and teaching promote understanding, interest and excellence?

What knowledge, facts, concepts, principles help students to understand the big ideas? What activities should we use that will provide students with the needed knowledge and skills? What materials and sources should we use? Are all of these in line with the design of the lesson and meet the outcomes?

When we plan lessons we have to remember that we cannot just pour information into our students. They have learn by doing and create meaning from their own experiences – constructivist learning as advocated by Piaget and Dewey. These learning experiences must allow students to access the big ideas, the key concepts and theories of the subject.

For example, what group activities would we use? As social constructivists believe that learning is a social activity, collaborative tasks as group work are an important part of the learning process. But in planning these group activities, we have to remember that the must not be random activities but purposeful that focus on the big ideas of the topic.

By using backwards design, it forces us to ask ourselves – does my lesson and overall planning make sense?

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