Understanding by Design
Highlights from
the work of
Grant Wiggins
Jay McTighe
Professional Development
 “Backward Design” focus:
 Clarify results and evidence of them before designing
 Teaching for understanding is the goal of teaching and
compatible with standards-based curriculums.
 Understanding by Design is a way of thinking more
carefully about design, not a program.
Remember, thinking like an assessor, not only an
activity designer, is key to effective design.
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 Identify desired results
 Determine acceptable evidence
 Then and then only: Plan learning experiences &
Instruction… Yippie!!!!
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 The Desired Results consists of four components
1. Content standards
2. Understanding
3. Essential questions
4. Knowledge and skills
#Key: Focus on Big Ideas!!!!
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 Essential Questions: After you identify the enduring
understandings for your unit, you then develop your
essential questions. These questions are geared to
help students take an inquiry approach toward the
various learning experiences you will design. Look at
your list of enduring understandings and develop 1-3
essential questions that cover all of them. You may
have one “overarching” essential
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 Good essential questions have the following criteria in
 Open-ended questions that resist a simple or single right
Deliberately thought-provoking, counterintuitive,
and/or controversial
Require students to draw upon content knowledge and
personal experience
Can be revisited throughout the unit to engage students
in evolving dialogue and debate
Lead to other essential questions posed by students
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 Examples of EQ’s
 Freedom and Responsibility
 What is freedom?
 Is freedom ever free?
 What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility?
 What are the essential liberties?
 Is liberty and justice for all attainable?
 Should people sacrifice freedom in the interest of security?
 When does government have the right to restrict the
freedoms of people?
 When is the restriction of freedom a good thing?
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 Language and Literature
 How is our understanding of culture and society
constructed through and by language?
 How can language be powerful?
 How can you use language to empower yourself?
 How is language used to manipulate us?
 In what ways are language and power inseparable?
 Is it possible to have culture without language?
 Is it possible to think without language?
 What is the purpose of: science fiction? satire? historical
novels, etc.?
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 Essential Questions:
 Are arguable and important to argue about.
 Are at the heart of the subject.
 Recur—and should recur—in professional work, adlut,
as well as in the classroom inquiry.
 Raise more questions-provoking and sustaining engaged
 Often raise important conceptual or philosophical
 Can provide purpose for learning. (How Powerful).
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Essential vs. Leading Questions
 Essential
 Asked to be argued
 Designed to “uncover”
new ideas, views, lines
of argument
 Set up inquiry, heading
to new understandings.
 Leading
 Asked as a reminder, to
prompt recall
 Designed to “cover”
 Point to a single,
straightforward fact--a
rhetorical question
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 Tips for using Essential Questions:
 Use E.Q.s to organize programs, courses, and units of
 “Less is more”.
 Edit to make them “student friendly”.
 Post the questions.
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 Knowledge and Skill:
 Students will know…
 Students will be able to…
 Example: The student will be able to explain how the
American Dream has changed over time?
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 Stage 2- Assessment Evidence:
 We have been talking about assessment for a couple of
 What are key complex performance tasks indicative of
 What other evidence will be collected to build the case
for understanding, knowledge and skill.
 How will students self-assess?
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 Stage 2 is the essence of backward design & alignment.
 “Measure what we value; value and act on what we
 Link assessment types to curriculum priorities.
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Assessment Types
 Traditional quizzess &
 Performance tasks &
 Paper/pencil
 Open-ended
 Selected-response
 Complex
 Constructed response
 Authentic
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 “Food for thought”: Two questions for a practical test of
performance tasks:
 Could the performance be accomplished (or the test be
passed) without in-depth understanding?
 Could the specific performance be poor, but the student
still understand the ideas in question?

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