Grant Wiggins says:

There are really only 3 non-negotiables in UbD [Understanding by Design]:

  1. There has to be a clear, constant, and prioritized focus on ‘understanding’ as an educational goal. Content mastery is NOT a sufficient goal in an understanding-based system; content mastery is a means, in the same way that decoding fluency is a means toward the real goal of reading – meaning, based on comprehension, from texts. This logic requires teacher-designers to be clear, therefore, about which uses of content have course priority since understanding is about transfer and meaning-making via content.
  2. The assessments must align with the goals via ‘backward design’; and the goals, as mentioned, should highlight understanding. So, there can be quizzes of content mastery and questions on the exam re: content, but the bulk of assessment questions and tasks cannot possibly be mere recall of content kinds in an understanding-based system. The issue is therefore not whether or not there are final exams but what kinds of questions/tasks make up any exams given; and whether the kinds of questions are in balance with the prioritized goals.
  3. The instructional practices must align with the goals. Again, that doesn’t mean content cannot be taught via lectures or that content-learning cannot be what lessons are sometimes about. But a course composed mainly of lectures cannot logically yield content use – any more than a series of lectures on history or literacy can yield high-performing historians or teachers of reading. The instructional methods must, as a suite, support performance with understanding.


There are so many good things in this 3-item list. I love the emphasis on student performance; the reminder that content mastery is a means, not a goal; and the emphatic distinction between ‘recall’ and ‘understanding.’ Thanks, Grant.