Thinking on the year-long level

Grant Wiggins, author of the classic Understanding by Design, and one of my favorite math bloggers right now, has a great post asking “what is a course?” In it, he brings up a lot of issues that we’ve been talking about lately in many of my workshops: are we making the content meaningful for students? Are we asking big, important questions?

Here’s his core point:

I am claiming that to be a valid course, there has to be more than just a list of valued stuff that we cover – even if that list seems vital to me, the teacher. Rather, a course must seem coherent and meaningful from the learner’s perspective. There must be a narrative, if you will; there must be a throughline; there must be engaging and stimulating inquiries and performances that provide direction, priorities, and incentives.

If you’re not there yet, he’s also got this list of prompts you can ask yourself to make sure your course is a course:

  • By the end of the year students should be able to…. and grasp that…
  • The course builds toward…
  • The recurring big ideas about which we will go into depth are…
  • The following chapters and sequence support my goal of…
  • Given my long-term priority goals, the assessments need to determine if students can…
  • Given my goals, the following activities need to build insight and incentive…
  • If I have been successful, students will be able to transfer their learning to… and avoid such common misconceptions and habits as…
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