3 Brilliant Resources from Wiggins & McTighe

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Many people may be familiar with the Understanding by Design work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I was first introduced to their work in 2003 when teaching at Bonn International School. I have continued to adhere to their philosophy but it wasn’t until recently that I picked up their book and re-read it.  And in doing so, I experienced renewed surprise at how in-depth and thorough their work is and how ‘watered down’ it seems to have gotten where it matters the most – in the classroom.

Some people love to throw buzz words around and ‘backward design’ appears to have suffered in the overuse of edu-speak. When you read the book, the way in which the planning process is laid out is so detailed and thorough with such a strong emphasis on understanding (versus simple knowledge acquisition). The blueprint for deriving authentic assessments is also incredible thorough and the whole process really helps you to stop thinking like an activity planner and start thinking like an assessor with your goal being to provide a meaningful context in which kids can develop their understanding.

So, what are the three brilliant resources?


1. UbD Design Guide Worksheets – This is a series of examples of what UbD performance tasks look like. It is really helpful for me to see a ‘worked example’ and this file does a great job of walking you, step-by-step through the process with examples of a myriad of assessment possibilities to determine understanding.


2. Techniques to Check for Understanding – From pp.166/167 of their book, this file is 2 pages of 8 techniques that you can use to check for understanding from your students. These could be used anytime but in particular would be good to modify as needed for exit tickets to give your students at the conclusion of lessons.


3. Essential Questions – This is probably my favorite of the three resources. As teachers, we ask so many questions – but are they essential? This is a longer read than the other two resources but very thorough and detailed and will definitely give you a lot to work with when designing questions to ask in your classroom.

Assessment, Learning

Your Rubric Is A Hot Mess

Confession: I stole the title of this post from this post here by the same name written by Jennifer Gonzales.  It caught my eye (yes, I judged a book by it’s cover) but then lived up the promise of the title by offering some awesome advice.  You could do yourself a favor and quit reading right now and head over to read her post.  Seriously.

Still here? OK, here is the basic premise of the post:

1. Teachers love rubrics.

2. Teachers love filling rubrics with loads of writing.

3. Students are unpredictable and don’t like to fit inside tiny (rubric) boxes.

4. Teachers spend the majority of their rubric writing, writing things they don’t really want to see.

I found myself nodding along with everything in this post. I do like rubrics but I feel like it is a lot of semantics and wordsmithing of what essentially amounts to “good”, “better”, “best”.

Solution: The One Point Rubric.  Take a look at this:

Three columns, one point for each criteria.  Instead of writing four (or five) columns, write one column based on the expectations/curriculum standards which would represent achievement at a mastery level. From here, when grading students’ work, decide if they met, exceeded, or did not yet meet the required standard.

I really like this idea. As Jennifer points out, if you are including the students in on the creation of the rubric, it becomes an easier task as they only need come up with what mastery of the task looks like rather than three or four other descriptors of different levels of achievement.

What do you think?

Have you used this approach before?  I am currently working with grade level teams at my school in my role of curriculum coordinator, to plan and reflect on the teaching of writing. One of the things the teams do when/after we meet and agree on the areas of focus from our scope and sequence, is to create rubrics.  I would like to share this with them and see if any of them would be willing to try the one point rubric.  Stay tuned…