notes on learning, design, tools, & life

Understanding by Design

I’ve been working my way through this book and its concepts recently, along with some help from one of our fab instructional coaches at work.

Wiggins and McTighe outline an approach to unit planning in the book which seems to be colloquially referred to as “backward design”. Check out the first two paragraphs of the first chapter:

Teachers are designers. An essential act of our profession is the crafting of curriculum and learning experiences to meet specified purposes. We are also designers of assessments to diagnose student needs to guide our teaching and to enable us, our students, and others (parents and administrators) to determine whether we have achieved our goals.

Like people in other design professions, such as architecture, engineering, or graphic arts, designers in education must be mindful of their audiences. Professionals in these fields are strongly client-centered. The effectiveness of their designs corresponds to whether they have accomplished explicit goals for specific end-users. Clearly, students are our primary clients, given that the effectiveness of curriculum, assessment, and instructional designs is ultimately determined by their achievement of desired learnings. We can think of our designs, then, as software. Our courseware is designed to make learning more effective, just as computer software is intended to make its users more productive.

Selfishly, it’s exciting to read a book which draws an explicit connection between my field of work–design and development–and my chosen path–teaching. There’s an incredible amount of overlap, and I’m grateful to have a set of ideas about approaching this work which may bridge some of the gaps between the fields I’ve been so involved in.

Somewhat embarrassingly, I can say with full confidence that reading this book–along with some other experiences I’ve had recently–has given me the chance to confront how much further I have to go with my craft.

It was two years ago that I set aside my daily CSS wrangling and shifted into teaching full time. For many of my friends who have gone into K–12 teaching, I’ve come to see two years as a very short time to develop as a teacher. It has felt like a long journey for me so far, but I need to remember that this is still just the beginning.

There is much work to do.