“Plan to Keep the Destination in Mind”

EDU 6524 Curriculum Design    BLOG for MODULE 1

Throughout the first six chapters of Understanding by Design, the authors provide extensive explanations of how to approach the design of curriculum by keeping the end result in mind.

Wiggins & McTighe acknowledge that “you cannot understand without subject matter knowledge” (p. 10) yet they also recognize that there is “too much content and not enough time” (p. 61)—suggesting the need for balance in subject content. As we as educators strive for balance, we are cautioned to avoid the “twin sins of activity-based and coverage-based design”(p. 20)—that is to not get so caught up in either classroom activities which may or may not lead to the intended goal, or become riveted on “plowing through” the content without a clear idea of what students are to carry with them when they leave. Again, we are to heed the warning that, “Without a focus on the big ideas that have lasting value, students are too easily left with forgettable fragments of knowledge” (p.66).

One of my colleague’s posts states, “In situations where goals were set, priorities were made, and big ideas properly expressed, understanding can happen”, and he encourages us to remember that as teachers we must focus on what the students are learning—not simply on what we are teaching. These thoughts bring to mind an analogy of planning a family vacation. Several years ago when we took our family to Glacier National Park, we could have chosen the most direct route and driven straight through—focusing on “coverage”—simply informing our children upon arrival that we were now at the park. Instead, however, we chose to strategically plan our route to include breaks to explore points of interest along the way (including an overnight stay in Spokane).  We chose to involve our kids by talking with them, showing them the map, taking pictures to reflect on, and selecting activities to ensure that from their perspective–the process was memorable and pleasurable.

We read that “national, state, district, or institutional standards…specify what students should know and be able to do” (Wiggins & McTighe, p. 13). Questions for consideration must include: “What should they walk out the door able to understand, regardless of what activities or texts we use?” and “What is the evidence of such ability?” (p. 17). The focus must be on having students generalize and transfer the use of skills to other settings outside the classroom and beyond the scope of their school lives. The OSPI website also indicates that the common core and standards approach must address,” the knowledge and skills students should have to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing, academic college courses and in workforce training programs” (OSPI, 2012).

Another discussion thread this week entitled, “starting with a clear plan”—causes me to reflect on our school’s recent “Senior Presentations”. I see a need within our special education department for more “backward planning” in preparing our students for the successful completion of their senior project. I think that if we strategically plan to focus earlier on the development of these skills in 9th through 11th grades—our students will not only be more likely to present their projects “on time”, but also have more cohesive and integrated results. I plan to be much more “intentional” in my efforts to prepare my students for this requirement, yet always keep the focus of “transferability” into their adult lives as the overarching goal.


OSPI webpage for Common Standards, Retrieved from SPU Blackboard, Curriculum class March 30, 2012  https://learn.spu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_57148_1%26url%3D

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN 1-4166-0035-3


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