Wiggins Kicks My Butt

I woke up to this article by Grant Wiggins in my Facebook newsfeed. A couple of teachers that I highly regard thought it was important enough to share, so I grabbed a cup of Earl Grey and started to read. On my phone. Big mistake.

The article is a couple thousand words of big thinking that my phone LCD just didn’t want to play nicely with. So, grab the laptop and try again.

Grant Wiggins (along with Jay McTighe) was one of the major players in the lesson design philosophy I studied when I was working on my teaching degree. Understanding By Design and the whole backward design approach were revelations to me as an emerging teacher. I was so used to – as a student – working through a text book from chapter one to chapter whatever, my major guide being the sequence the publisher ordained. I was initially overwhelmed but then enthused by the concept of starting with a big idea or overarching theme and then working backward to develop questions and tasks that would guide the learner toward understanding.

Fast forward to the real world.

When I was hired and given a classroom of my own, I quickly found that the powerful theories and goals I’d been simmering in at grad school didn’t always mesh well with the calendar and assessment demands of public school. I felt disheartened, but realized that good intentions sometimes have to take a back seat to practical demands.

This has been a rough year in teaching for me. Heck, it’s been a rough year in pretty much every arena for me! (When you’re feeling mired in a slough of despair, it’s hard to feel enthused about many things.) I’ve really felt a disconnect between the traditional curriculum and assessment model and what might work best for me as a teacher and my students as learners. I’ve known something is wrong, but I haven’t thought clearly enough to recognize what it is. This article kicks me in the pants.

This statement stands out for me:

….though we often lose sight of this basic fact, the point of learning is 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. Knowledge is an indicator of educational success, not the aim.

Our current system mandates that I pay attention to DIBELS reading fluency scores and OAKS standardized test scores and whatever the newest “revolution” in indicators happens to be, but I’m reminded that this isn’t what learning is completely about. In the end, do I want my students to meet or exceed a standardized test, or do I want them to have grown as thinkers and collaborators and communicators and innovators? Do I hope that they will be able to choose the correct answer or to be able to look at a situation and successfully solve a problem using what they already know and even things that they have to figure out along the way? Silly questions!

I will read this article again and continue to mull over the implications for my classroom, but I am certain that what I have been doing has not been working well for this specific group of young people with whom I’ve been entrusted. Something needs to change if I hope to maintain my sanity and leave my students with learning that will actually matter in the future.

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