Understanding by Design
Wiggins & McTighe
A Brief Introduction
Center for Technology & School Change
Teachers College, Columbia University
Ellen B. Meier, Ed. D., Co-Director
Focus on “Understanding”
• Explains common practices that interfere with
• Explains a backward design process to avoid
• Proposes an approach to curriculum designed to
engage students in inquiry & “uncovering” ideas.
• Proposes a set of design standards for achieving
quality control in curriculum & assessment
Focus on Instruction or the
• Grant Wiggins and Jay
McTighe provide a
way to move from
Filters for Selecting
• Represent a big idea having enduring value
beyond the classroom.
• Reside at the heart of the discipline (involve
“doing” the subject).
• Require un-coverage (of abstract or often
• Offer potential for engaging students.
Practically speaking, this
• Turning content
standards and outcome
assessment that evoke
Some examples of Essential
• Is there enough to go
around (e.g., food, clothes,
• Are mathematical ideas
inventions or discoveries?
• Does art reflect culture or
• Who owns what and why?
• What do we fear?
Big Picture of a Design Approach
Key Design Design Filters What the Final
Question Considerations (Design Criteria) Design
Stage 1: What is National standards Enduring ideas. Unit framed around
worthy & requiring of State standards Opportunities for enduring understandings
understanding? Teacher expertise & authentic, discipline- and essential questions.
interest based work.
Stage 2: What is Six facets of Valid. Reliable. Unit anchored in
evidence of understanding. Sufficient. Authentic credible and
understanding? Continuum of work. Feasible. educationally vital
assessment types. Student friendly. evidence of the desired
Stage 3: What learning Research based WHERE Coherent learning
experiences & teaching repertoire of learning & Where is it going? experiences & teaching
promote understanding, teaching strategies. Hook the students. that will evoke &
interest, and excellence? Essential & enabling develop the desired
Explore & equip. understandings, promote
knowledge & skill.
Rethink & revise. interest & make
Exhibit & evaluate. excellent performance
Six Facets of Understanding
• Can explain
• Can interpret
• Can apply
• Has perspective
• Can empathize
• Has self-knowledge
Rubric for the Six Facets of
• Criteria for each facet:
– Explanation – accurate
– Interpretation –
– Application – effective
– Perspective – credible
– Empathy – sensitive
– Self-knowledge - self-
What the Facets Imply for Unit
• Uncoverage vs.
– Text is resource vs.
text is syllabus.
– Main ideas suggest the
kinds of performances
vs. assessment is
viewed as a test based
Two Different Approaches
Thinking like an Assessor Thinking like an Activity Designer
What would be sufficient & revealing What would be interesting & engaging
evidence of understanding? activities on this topic?
What performance tasks must anchor What resources and materials are
the unit and focus the instructional available on this topic?
How will I be able to distinguish What will students be doing in and out
between those who really understand of class? What assignments will be
and those who don’t (though they may given?
Against what criteria will I distinguish How will I give students a grade (and
work? justify it to their parents)
What misunderstandings are likely? Did the activities work? Why or why
How will I check for those? not?
Implications for Teaching
Acquisition of Development of Enlarged
Organized Intellectual Understanding
Knowledge Skills of Ideas and
Didactic Coaching, Socratic
Instruction Exercises, and Questioning and
Design Standards are Important
• Helps us understand:
– What is worthy of
understanding in this unit?
– What counts as evidence
that students really
understand and can use
what we’re teaching?
– What knowledge and skills
must we teach to enable
them to apply their
knowledge in meaningful
• Units would be reviewed
with others in a peer
• Units would be
documented with all the
handouts required and
• Units would be made
available to share.
A Process, not an Event
• Takes place over time
– 3 to 5 years
• Can adapt any or all of
these perspectives and
• Emphasis on student
understanding is key.
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