Big misconceptions

The final chapter in Wiggins deals with the three most common qualms about backward design, all of which seem germane to any change. The first misgiving (“I need to teach to the test”) is effectively refuted by citing the research that shows challenging instruction produces long-term gains (and transfer); as a result, you CAN teach to the test by teaching authentically and without drill and kill on released test items. The third misgiving (“I don’t have time”) is countered with the recommendations to share good practices and collaborate; this seems more effective in K-12 than in higher education.

The second misgiving (“I have too much content to cover”) is an old and well-entrenched argument and is more complex. The notion that the textbook equals the course content is spurious; we know that it’s simply a tool, and if a student can pass the TAKS test without memorizing the entire textbook, a teacher should not attempt to cover the textbook in lockstep fashion. This section then lays out a three-part sequence that few teachers could argue with:

  1. Students come in with preconceptions based on individual histories; we must first engage them.
  2. Students must learn facts, place them in a conceptual framework, and then organize them for retrieval and application.
  3. Students must reflect on their own learning (metacognition) which provides learner control and self-monitoring

Overall, I found this a practical way to end the book; by focusing on misconceptions, Wiggins practices the big ideas of instructional design.

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