Wiggins becomes even more specific in discussing how to craft understandings. Understandings are identifiable by being abstract, transferable, and opaque. Non-understandings are general, aimless or rote, and simplistic. The specifics include the direction to use complete sentences, even to the point of recommending the form: Students should understand that…

The features of understandings were useful, but I admit I’m getting a little bogged down in (and weary of) all the number sets. Why are there 6 facets that map to 5 features that tie to 6 criteria? However, the features seemed less an ordered list than a set of characteristics:

  • specific and drawn from expert experience
  • enduring beyond a specific topic
  • abstract and easily misunderstood
  • best acquired by uncovering or doing
  • summarizes strategy in skills

The Zen-like aspect (for me) is that understandings must transcend a specific time and place. However, they must be constructed from specific (even down to the level of each learner’s individual prior experience) situations.

One aspect I enjoyed was the connection Wiggins drew between understanding and fact. While understanding is inferred from facts, a learner who knows the facts can only recite them, while a learner who understands the facts “gets it” and can generalize to non-identical situations. A similar parallel might be drawn in the skills area:  a learner who knows the steps can only teach them, while a learner who understands the steps “does them.” BTW, that’s not a slam on P.E. teachers.

My best moment: the absence of resolution that seems to characterize most of Wiggins was filled by the quote from Grant (note to self: look up his research):

There may be no right answers, but some answers are better than others.


Getting back to essentials

I found this chapter in Wiggins very applied. Essential questions require the empathic facet and are applicable to the upper level of Bloom’s taxonomy (judging) where there are no right or wrong answers. They lead to big ideas and are built on challenging commonly-held beliefs or on posing dilemmas. The hallmarks of essential questions include:

  • recurrence
  • core idea
  • stimulate inquiry (and yet more questions)
  • appeal to diverse learners (offering alternate viewpoints)
  • force rethinking
  • require  connecting with personal and prior experience

I especially appreciated the recursive aspect inherent in the admonition that a question cannot be deemed essential without an examination of the content, assignments and assessments that surround the question.

The distinction between overarching and topical questions was equally useful as it showed how specific contexts (cases) in topical essential questions lead to overarching essential questions (which require specificity). The division of approaches–open versus guided–allowed the construction of a 4-cell matrix:

Open Topical Overarching
Guided Topical Overarching

I was somewhat surprised that that the following discussion didn’t suggest a sequence of Open->Topical to Open-Overarching to Guided->Topical to Guided->Overarching. That seems like a natural progression that moves from specifics to generalizations and from open inquiry to focused understanding.

Tactics without strategy is noise

Dick and Carey’s initial discussion of a delivery system seems to break into 3 aspects:

  1. Social mode (lecture, lab and tutor, small group, self-study: I liked the inclusion of student groupings as a major decision in delivery)
  2. Medium (book, tape, mail, classroom, TV/radio/phone, computer, Web)
  3. Environment (time: a/synchronous, place: bound/open)

Even though PBL is covered, no distinction was drawn between a linear sequence (subobj 1a->subobj 2a->subobj 3a->Obj A-> subobj 1b->subobj 2b->Obj B) and a hyper sequence (in which learners access subobj  and Obj at their discretion and learn a sequence through trial and error).

Gagné’s attention step was amplified by introducing Keller’s concepts of relevance and confidence (satisfaction seems better-suited to the end of the sequence of events). To me, Gagné’s steps naturally split into “instruction” and “assessment” sections at the end of guidance (examples or practice) with Dick and Carey recommending a summary and a terminal objective practice at that juncture.

Practical suggestions included:

  • Require learners to develop a plan to reinforce transfer
  • Show how objectives can be used
  • Gagné’s elaboration tactic (linking stored knowledge to new knowledge) can also be accomplished with analogies and by asking learners “to provide an example from their own experience”
  • Reinforce declarative hierarchies by presenting information in an outline or table
  • Guidance in the form of practice is accomplished with generating new examples, refining the organizational structure, and focusing on meaningful contexts

Dick’s and Carey’s coverage on attitude left me wanting more. The idea that attitude is best modified/reinforced by delivering content from someone (real or imaginary) admired by the learner seems obvious, as is the suggestion to decide if learners should know they are being observed; no information was presented on how this observation impacts attitude changes other than the discouraging statement that there is little relationship between what we say and what we do in regard to our attitudes.

I appreciated the idea that constructivist designs are particularly appropriate for ill-defined problems. The table of constructivist guidelines was more straightforward than Duffy’s article:

  • offer choices
  • situate problems
  • create opportunities for reflection
  • involve groups in new knowledge construction
  • practice involves multiple perspectives
  • provide just enough facilitation in feedback (model, scaffold, coach, collaborate, peer review)
  • assessment standards must be referenced to each learner’s students’ unique goals

How do I remember? Let me count 3 ways.

I found the Gagné chapter pretty cool. I’d heard of the 9 events but didn’t realize the underpinnings of the 3 types of knowledge (in memory).

  1. Propositions are declarative and form into networks; they are composed of argument (general)-relation (narrower) pairs although it took me a while to “count” them correctly. What was interesting is that we remember them as ideas not as exact sentences–maybe because we take in the sentence and then adapt it to our schema based on our history. They are easier to acquire but slower to retrieve. Propositions are organized in hierarchies and underlie the ability to reproduce information.
  2. Productions are procedural and form into systems; they are composed of if (condition)-then (reaction) pairs and are more reactive with the environment. They are slower to acquire but faster to retrieve (automatic) because they don’t need to be brought back into short-term memory. Productions are organized into if-then pairs and underlie the ability to operate on information.
  3. Images are different from both and pack more information into a smaller space. Images are used to represent spatial information because of ST memory limits. Images are continuous (analog) while propositions (and procedures?) are discrete (digital).

Here are some things I questioned:

  • 45% correct if 2 ideas are in working memory at the same time vs. 35% if the 2 ideas are separated: doesn’t seem like a huge difference but is used to justify bringing recalled knowledge into short-term memory and immediately connecting it to new knowledge.
  • Declarative knowledge is useful for novel situations while procedural knowledge is important for familiar ones; this seems incongruous with Wiggins’ contention that PBL is best for new situations (or perhaps PBL builds declarative knowledge).
  • Images may be represented  in long-term memory as propositions or as images and propositions; they could be represented only as images (is there research on whether image recall is as fast as procedural recall?).

Do you understand the way I understand?

I didn’t find this chapter as useful as Gagne’s, not because I didn’t agree that there are different types of understanding but because it wasn’t as specific (but that might be good for me). So, I thought I’d translate what I understood Wiggins to say (in terms of the six facets) into how I might apply them:

  1. Explanation – accomplished via generalizations; not just telling because “why” and “how” are inferred; might be used as PBL to require students to explain not just recall answers; related to Bloom’s analysis and synthesis levels
  2. Interpretation – accomplished via telling stories; varies with context but students must defend positions; present students with inherently ambiguous issues
  3. Application- accomplished by requiring students to use in new situations; context-dependent; performance-based; seems identical to Bloom’s level
  4. Perspectives – accomplished by presenting the big picture; require students to take an alternate point of view
  5. Empathy – accomplished when students can identify value in other perspectives; seems to require an attitudinal assessment
  6. Self-knowledge – accomplished when students can perceive their own limits; achieved by using reflection; make certain students are not using binary answers; also seems to require an attitudinal assessment

All six facets are manifestations of transfer according to Wiggins, but I need to think how to prove that.

Are all multiple choice tests evil?

For Dick and Carey, the answer is clearly, No.” At the same time, they do not avoid more difficult types of assessments involving the measurement of performance or attitude. The mapping of assessment type to domain was obvious as soon as I read it but it helped clarify several aspects for my ILM:

  • verbal domain — objective
  • intellectual domain — objective or product
  • attitudinal  — observe (or ask learner to state preference)
  • psychomotor — performance (product)

Although it was mentioned, I feel that post-tests should have been emphasized as a “grade” for the designer as much as for the learner (at least until the instruction has been used by a significant number of learners). I also wondered why weighting wasn’t specifically discussed as a means of discriminating among critical and secondary objectives.

The events you are about to see are real

Fools rush in… I see now that these posts should have been limited to 200 words and comments to 100. I’d heard of Gagne’s 9 events before but the interesting part of reading his original work is the bifurcation of the process: the first 5 steps are the learning, and the last 4 are the assessment which implies that every instructional event must include proof. The Presentation step was the most helpful, especially:

  • content must mirror the objective in delivery mode
  • variety is required so learners can generalize
  • present discrimination through finer- and finer-grained examples
  • present concepts through a variety of examples and non-examples
  • provide examples then a definition for concrete concepts with younger learners
  • provide a definition then examples for defined concepts with older learners

I had misunderstood that the Guidance step was practice when in fact it is a series of small activities that build and allow the learner to discover the big idea; constructivists will say that learners who need fewer activities (hints) before seeing the big idea bring a different social-cultural history to the event. I also misunderstood the last two steps; assessment is NOT a repeat of feedback but a drive toward reliability and validity while transfer is applying the concept to an entirely new problem.

For my ILM, I now suspect that assessment of an attitude may require human observation.