March 13, 2012 Mike Gwaltney no responses

Wiggins: “Everything You Know about Curriculum may be Wrong”

Of all the work done in the last few decades creating models for designing curriculum, I find the Understanding by Design framework from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe the best. UbD recognizes a simple truth as primary: we must design our curriculum, schools, courses, and lessons with the end in mind – design from goals toward activities, not the other way around.

Following the UbD thinking, the most essential work we do in designing curriculum is in setting goals. What is our purpose? To what end, schooling? Shall we create schools with classrooms that are “information dumps”, where students attempt to memorize as much data as possible? This seems to be what the standards and tests movements are all about.

On his blog today, Grant has written about a different vision of schooling, that sets a much more humanistic and profound goal for students: “not just to know things but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.”


If you find you agree that schooling is about creating mature, wise, and effective people, you’re also likely to find, upon examination, that our schools are not yet setup for this. Do the major assessments reflect these goals? I don’t mean whether the one-off assembly or various extracurricular activities aim toward the goal of creating better people (of course many do), I mean to ask whether the difference between success and failure for students is about not only knowing stuff, but in consistently demonstrating wisdom and effectiveness through performance. Is this the outcome tied to graduation? Or is graduation just about racking up test scores?

Here’s how Grant puts it:

What else might follow from thinking of performance, not knowledge, as the aim of education? We might finally realize the absurdity of marching through textbooks. You want to learn English or be a historian? You would think it very foolish if I said: OK, sit down and let’s march for years through a dictionary or an encyclopedia, A to Z. Want to learn to cook? Read the Joy of Cooking all the way through its 700+ pages – before ever setting foot in a kitchen? … Knowledge is only an indicator of educational success, not the aim. Thus, the conventional view of curriculum and the process of conventional curriculum writing must be wrong.

Grant’s piece will make you think hard about the goals of your curriculum. I urge you to read it:

Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.

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Mike Gwaltney