August 23, 2011, 11:00 am
I recently suggested on ProfHacker that we should design our courses around “enduring understanding,” which means, as I put it, focusing on what we want our students to understand, rather than what we want them to read.
An anonymous commenter to that article wondered whether these two goals were as different as I made them out to be. Especially in a discipline such as literature, isn’t the whole point to read a set of books that more or less cohere in some chronological or thematic way? By reading a selection of deliberately-chosen texts, aren’t we implicitly delineating what it is we want our students to understand?
My answer is—regardless of your discipline—no. And I want to use the distinction between coverage and uncoverage to help explain why.
Once again, I’ll turn to Wiggins and McTighe’s book Understanding by Design, from which I’ve borrowed the notion of enduring…
August 10, 2011, 3:00 pm
Earlier this summer I discussed the idea of backward design, which comes from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s excellent book Understanding by Design. Recall that backward design is a three-stage process, in which you as a teacher first identify your desired results for a class, then determine what would count as evidence that your students did or did not reach those results, and finally, design your learning experience around your desired results and evidence.
The idea behind backward design is simple, yet it’s something I find myself relearning again and again. Even now, as I prep for the upcoming semester, I am tempted to focus on what I want my students to read, rather than what I want my students to understand.
It’s a testament to my perennial rediscovery of backward design that I wrote virtually the same sentence as above in my earlier post on backward design—and had for…
May 31, 2011, 11:00 am
It’s easy to switch into automatic pilot mode when it comes to planning a course. It goes something like this: (1) we look at the topic of the course we’re assigned to teach, (2) we select enough essential/canonical/anti-canonical reading material to fill out fifteen or so weeks, and then (3) we plot that reading onto a calendar. Instant Syllabus!
I found myself falling into this very mode of course design recently, as I began planning an upper-level science fiction class for Fall 2011. I’ve never taught this particular course, although I’ve been an avid science fiction reader for years. I pulled together a few thematic strands I’m familiar with and wove them into the required course description, and then began thinking about what novels to teach.
That was it. That was the extent of my course design. I wrote a description and began picking novels I wanted to teach.
So what’s the…