Content mastery is a means, not a goal
Grant Wiggins says:
There are really only 3 non-negotiables in UbD [Understanding by Design]:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.