You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Understanding by Design

The framework outlined in Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998) offers a three-stage, backward design process to assist teachers in centering their curriculum and assessments on big ideas, essential questions, and authentic performances.

In Stage One, the teacher examines the existing curriculum and identifies the desired results of a course or unit.  The teacher must determine what enduring understandings - important ideas or skills that have value beyond the classroom.  This stage involves establishing essential questions that are designed to engage students and guide their inquiry.  These questions are not designed to be answered.  Instead, essential questions should simulate discussion and be revisited.  Finally, the teacher must determine what knowledge and skills students should learn.

Stage Two asks that teachers determine acceptable evidence.  In other words, the teacher designs assessment tools (performance tasks, quizzes, tests) that will provide evidence that students have achieved the desired results.  Additionally, teachers must give consideration to unprompted evidence that students have learned.  Two crucial tasks in this stage involve the design of rubrics and self-assessment tools.

Finally, in stage three, the teacher can begin to plan the actual learning experiences and engage in instruction.  The name "backward design" emerges from this being the final step.  Wiggins & McTighe suggest that the usual or traditional approach to teaching had planning activities as the first step of planning.  In backward design, the teacher starts with the end (the desired results) and then determines how they can prove that the results are achieved by designing the assessments.

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