I’m Jay Mctighe. It’s spelled M-C-T-I-G-H-E. Uh, and I’m currently an independent consultant doing, uh, writing and consulting work in education.
One of the interesting questions in our profession is, uh, what is understanding and how is it different from knowing something? And in the book “Understanding by Design,” Grant Wiggins and I feel that there’s a worthwhile distinction to be made between understanding something and knowing it. Uh, think about it, you could know lots of facts about something, but not really have a deep understanding of what the facts mean or how they’re used. We like to think of understanding as requiring more than just lots of knowledge. Understanding involves the ability to use knowledge, facts and skills, uh, in meaningful ways, uh, and to be able to reflect on what the facts mean and how they fit into some larger construct.
Um, one of the challenges in teaching for understanding is the follow-up question, ‘So, how do we know that students really understand?’ Uh, and this gets at the heart of the question, ‘What is understanding and what are indicators that someone understands?’ Uh, in our work we propose that understanding is not a single thing, that there are different aspects or facets of understanding and that understanding is thus revealed through different indicators or facets, as we call them. Uh, let me give you, uh, some examples. One way in which we would know that someone really understands is that they can explain, not just give back information or recall facts, but explain what they mean. This means that from an assessment point of view we’re going to ask students to give us reasons, to support their answers, to show their work in mathematics, to justify their conclusions. Uh, just giving back in answers is insufficient, you need to explain it and your explanation needs to be thorough, uh, accurate, um, supported. That’s one facet of understanding. Um, a second and related factor is interpretation. We can infer that someone understands something, a phenomenon, a situation, a set of data, if they can interpret it. Interpret literally refers to making meaning from. So, can you make meaning from text? From data? From experience? Can you see patterns and see connections? And can you explain what you see where linking interpretation with explanation? Um, a simple example. Uh, I may know facts about the Holocaust and the rise of totalitarianism in--in--in Germany and the Nazi, uh, movement to power, but that’s different than being able to say, ‘Well, what does this mean that in the mid-20th century we have such a horrific, uh, event?’ A third facet of understanding, which really is at the heart of performance-type assessment, is application. We know that you understand, or we can infer that you understand, when you can take facts, concepts and skills learned here and apply them appropriately in a new situation. That’s really the measure of understanding. And researchers like Howard Gardner, David Perkins and--and others have made the point, ‘You don’t really understand it until the--unless you can use it in a meaningful way.’
A fourth facet of understanding, uh, we have labeled perspective. An indicator of understanding is when someone can get out of their own intellectual box and look at an issue or a situation or a problem from different points of view. It’s an intellectual shift of perspective. Uh, I may not agree with someone else’s point of view, but I can intellectually understand where they’re coming from. I can even give their side of the argument, even though I don’t agree with it. This is a sign of a more mature intellect, uh, as contrasted with, uh, a less mature understanding where I can only see it from my point of view and I can’t even imagine how anyone would think differently. A fifth facet of understanding that we’ve identified is, in a sense, a flip side of perspective, uh, we refer to it as empathy. Having understanding from an empathy or empathic point of view means being able to feel what someone else is--someone else feels, uh, walk in their shoes. Um, it’s more of the affective side of understanding and, in fact, we found in our research that in the popular press, in magazines, newspapers, television, the most widely used connotation for the term understand has to do with empathy. I understand what she must be feeling at this time. Um, the distinction, although subtle, is we think important. Perspective is an intellectual, critical, analytic detachment, getting back, seeing the big picture and seeing things from different points of view. Empathy is more like a projection into imagine what it would be like to be inside someone else’s skin. Um, and we think the distinctions are--are--are worthwhile. The final facet that we’ve identified, the sixth facet of understanding, is as old as--as the Socrates and the Greek tradition of, uh, understanding oneself. That someone who understands is medicognitive, they understand their own learning style, their learning strengths, they understand how they came to know things. They also are reflective and so someone with understanding reflects on the situation, on their own experience, uh, realizes that their own views may be influenced by prior knowledge, experience, bias. Um, they’re also aware of what they don’t know and so we would say that someone with understanding, in the full sense, has a self understanding, uh, as well as understanding about other things.
This conception of understanding, um, has implications for both teaching and assessment. Um, our view is underguarded, if you will, by the conception that you can’t just tell people something and they are likely to understand it, particularly if it’s abstract or--or sophisticated or complex. We think that understanding has to be earned. By that we mean the student has to make meaning from things and thus, the teacher’s job is not just to tell them all that we know with the hope that they understand it, but to facilitate and guide their intellectual exploration. In a sense, this calls for an inquiry approach to teaching. So, let me give you a quick example. Uh, social studies class studying about pioneer America and the westward expansion might be, uh, introduced with some questions like: Why do people move? Have any of you ever moved? Have your parents moved? Why did they move? Why do you think people on the East Coast that were pretty comfortable decided to leave home and move to the Midwest where there was nothing? Why do you think they did that? We want them to be thinking about the meaning behind the facts of westward migration. We may , for instance, as a learning activity, give them--show them pictures of life in the Plains or on the wagon train and--and show them some of the terms that people commonly spoke in that era and say, ‘What can you infer about? What meaning do you make about what life was like from these pictures and these words?’ And pretty soon, if--if well chosen, kids are going to see prairie life was awfully hard. They had to spend hours just churning butter, mending clothes, working in the fields. Um, that’s an understanding that will come to them in a different way than just reading about life was hard in the prairie, uh, from a textbook. So, in summary, a brief summary, using questions to stimulate thinking, giving experiences to replicate or simulate the kind of, um, ideas that we’re after, helps students construct meaning and--and develop an understanding. I--I have one more part of that, if I can. If you think about it, knowledge is relatively binary, you know it or you don’t. Understanding is more a matter of degree, more a--a sense of going deeper. You have a deeper understanding over time. And this suggests from teaching point of view that simply mentioning it or covering it once, may be insufficient to really develop deeper understanding. And so one instructional implication is that we present students with requirements that they rethink what they thought they knew. That we push and go deeper. Maybe we present them new information that they hadn’t considered. Maybe we give them a problem that’s more complex than what they’ve been working on to date. Uh, example. In the, uh, unit on westward expansion and life in the prairie, after they’ve learned about pioneer life, then we may interject another question: What about the Native Americans living on the plains? What was their story of westward expansion? All the sudden now we’ve introduced a new perspective and this is going to cause you to rethink a little bit about what you imagine life was like, because we’re only looking at it from the seller’s perspective, now let’s shift and think about from Native Americans. And this gives us into some larger insights about any pioneering effort. Cultures clash. His story may not be the same as her story about westward expansion.
One of the greatest challenges of teaching today, I think it’s been a challenge for many years, but increasingly today with our information explosion, is the problem of too much potential knowledge to cover in the curriculum and not enough time. I--it’s an--a quintessential challenge for teachers from kindergarten to graduate school. If our goal is understanding, the problem is complicated because we know that to come to understand something requires more than just hearing it once or covering it on the surface. I mean, we can cover more content in class by talking faster, but that doesn’t yield meaningful learning or in-depth understanding. We know that to really come to understand something, one has to slow down and uncover the curriculum. So, in a practical way, what does that mean? Pretty straightforward, we can’t teach everything there is to teach, number one. And number two, some things are more important than others. So, for us the--the challenge is translated into the requirement that we have to be clear and sharp in prioritizing what we’re going to emphasize, what we’re going to uncover vs. that which we’re going to cover and finally, that which we’re just going to ignore. There’s not enough time to cover everything. Uh, in our book we have a couple of design tools that we like to use with people. One of them is a set of ovals. So, if you can imagine three intersecting circles or ovals. The outer ring we’ve labeled, ‘Worth being familiar with,’ the middle oval, ‘Important to know and do.’ and the inner circle, the smallest one, ‘Enduring understanding.’ And we like to use that to ask people to unpack their curriculum, the content standards that they are expected to teach for a given topic or unit, and basically, prioritize the--the curriculum. Um, simple example, in, uh, language arts, one of the things that we may teach are different literary types, like satire. We want students to know different genres and different literary types. Well, what’s the enduring understanding that we want students to come to under our study of satire? Well, one of those things is that authors don’t always say literally what they mean. There are indirect forms of communication, one of which is satire, another is irony. And so, while we’re going to look at different satirical works and talk about satire, we want kids to come to understand that satire is more than just making fun of someone, it’s a deliberate literary form where we indirectly make our point and satire is our vehicle for doing so. Um, what’s worth being familiar with? Maybe some biographies of certain satirists, but that’s not at the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that we want kids to come to understand that there are indirect ways, as well as direct ways, of communicating and satire is a deliberate form for expressing, um, political, uh, differences or ridiculing, um, silly or improper behavior.
Um, often when we hear people talk about curriculum, particularly in these days of large books of content standards and state tests that test lots of things, um, we hear the term cover, I’ve got to cover a lot to prepare my kids or to finish the book by June. Um, we like people to examine the term. I mean when you look at the dic--dif--
(Mr. Mctighe is told to go ahead and start over)
When you look in the dictionary under the term cover, you typically see two meaning...
(Mr. Mctighe is asked to start over)
When you look in the dictionary at the term cover, there’re typically two connotations. One is to obscure, as in to cover up. The other is to cover the surface, like a bedspread. Now, if you think about that with respect to content knowledge, neither connotation is particularly, um, suggestive of our goal. We don’t want to obscure, of course, and just skimming the surface may do a disservice to students. Uh, our contention is we want to uncover the curriculum and go deeper, but what does that mean? What does it mean to uncover content? Well, one of the ways in which we like to uncover content is through the doorway of questions. Through questions, we like to call them ‘essential questions,’ we ask students to think and then rethink what we want them to come to understand. So, for example--I’m going to pause on this one.
(Mr. Mctighe wants to restart)
OK. Here--here’s one. Uh, here’s an example, uh, developed by a friend of mine, a high school English teacher, for teaching the classic American novel “Catcher in the Rye.” He has an essential question and he opens his unit on “Catcher in the Rye” with a question, ‘What’s wrong with Holden?’ And it’s an interesting question that--that can be uncovered, in fact, it demands to be uncovered because early on in the novel, um, he tells the--the students that their performance task, their assessment at the end of their reading and discussion in two weeks, is going to be to write a letter to Holden’s parents and to the hospital staff where he is being housed. And my friend, David, who--who developed this, uh, question and this assessment, said that many of the kids read this book kind of thinking of it as Holden’s excellent adventure. You know here’s a--here’s a groovy old guy, uh, you know, rebelling against authority and thinking all the adults are phonies, when, in fact, this is being written from a psychiatric hospital and this is Holden’s own words. So the question, ‘What’s wrong with Holden?, is not only, uh, an assessment question that you might use at the end, it’s a way of guiding your thinking and your interpretation and your discussion and your meaning making of the text as you go along. Now, one of the understandings he also wants to bring out in this book is related to the question, ‘Can fiction reveal truth?’ Can you learn things about life through fiction? What can we learn about life through Holden’s account? And what’s wrong with Holden? Is this a deeply disturbed young man or is this a kind of a normal adolescent guy feeling his oats? The question helps us to go beyond the surface features of the novel to really interpret what’s going on here. What are Holden’s words mean? And what are the larger ideas that Salinger is conveying? That’s an example of uncovering.
A friend of mine, a--a master teacher, has a little aphorism that I love. He says, ‘Education should be an itch, not a scratch.’ So, how do you make education an itch? Well, good teachers, for centuries, who understand that proverb, if you will, will begin lessons or units of study with problems that are interesting, but kind of challenging. Uh, issues that are of interest to kids, weird facts or anomalies, uh, or questions. But the questions or problems or issues need to be provocative, they typically don’t have a single correct answer, they’re not the kind of questions you’d have at the end of a chapter, uh, or on a quiz. They’re questions that are meant to open the door, to itch the mind and to make you want to go into it, the content. So, a couple of examples: Um, elementary teacher who’s doing, uh, multicultural, um, literature from different, uh, parts of the world opens the unit with the question, ‘How are stories from different places and times really about you?’ All the sudden the kids are saying, ‘Wait a minute. This story was written 500 years ago in Asia. How is it about me?’ Well, let’s read and find out because one of the understandings she wants kids to come to is that great literature is great, in part, because it deals with universal human themes. Themes that we can relate to as humans even though it may be, uh, with people in different times and spaces. Um, another example from a high school, uh, English teacher uses the question, ‘Why do people sometimes act stupid when they’re in groups?’ As a way of captivating her ninth grade, uh, class into reading, uh, short stories and--and works of, uh, uh, of literature about self identity, the role of group in peer pressure. Uh, who are you and how do you come to be who you are? What’s the role of others? The question, by the way, came to her from one of her students who said, ‘Gee, you know, why do my friends act different when they’re in groups? Why do people sometimes act stupid when they’re in groups?’ She took that question as a hook, uh, to get in the door.
Contemporary views of learning point out that learning is more robust, more meaningful, more in-depth, uh, if students construct meaning, if they make sense of things for themselves. Uh, and this suggests that if we want them to really come to understand something, they have to think about it, work with it, um, and this is one of the ways we make it our own. This is where the role of particular thinking skills and processes come to bare. For intr--for instance, having students compare two poems helps us better understand each because this poem is written in an E.E. Cummings style and this poem is a more, uh, familiar, uh, rhyming verse model, but they’re both about the same theme. By studying the two poems together, by comparing them, we better understand the features of different ways of different poetic expression and different ways in which authors present the same ideas. Um, let me, uh, I’m going--let me sh--shift to something in mathematics because I haven’t done hardly anything with that. Another way in which thinking skills become important, uh, in the curriculum, uh, is seen currently in an emphasis in mathematics that some people would call ‘problem based.’ Rather than teaching the kids all the math facts and modeling and having them practice all the algorithms before they ever do anything meaningful with it, an alternative approach, uh, would be to present students with real life, authentic, challenging problems that call for the mathematics that we want the kids to come to understand. Now, typically, when confronted with those problems, they are not going to be able to solve them right away, but that’s the point. That one of the things we want them to do is to come to appreciate how the algorithms were derived. What problems they were meant to help us solve. How we can be much more efficient when we have a powerful algorithm or, uh, heuristic procedure rather just brute force, uh, trial and error. Um, in other words, using problem solving, a mode of thinking as a doorway into exploring content, helps students better come to understand it. They also have an appreciation for the strategies of good problem solving if they have to use them. Trying to teach them in isolation without any purpose is unlikely to be successful.
Teaching for understanding...
(Mr. Mctighe wants to start over)
If one of our goals in teaching is understanding, it has implications for how we teach, but it also has implications for how we assess to know whether students have, in fact, understood what we want them to come to understand. Um, this is a little tricky because testing for factual knowledge or basic skill acquisition doesn’t necessarily ensure that students understand. We can select the correct answer from given alternatives in a multiple choice or we can recall and plug in the correct answer in a fill-in-the-blank, but that doesn’t ensure that we understand it. Our contention is you don’t really understand something until you can use it in a new situation appropriately. Those qualifies are important. A new situation means it’s not just plug in, it’s application to a new situation, appropriately means it has to work. This suggests that for assessment we go beyond just assessing for single correct answers. Sure, there are things we want kids to know, we can assess for those, but if we really want to see that--if they understand, they need to apply their understanding to a new situation. A couple of examples: Uh, in a physics class where the kids have been learning about force and motion, the teacher presents some of the performance assessment tasks at the end of the unit. The task is that they have to design a new type of swing set for a playground, but they have to propose the model of their swing set, um, in--and conduct investigations to look at how the length of the--of the swing, the mass, the height of release, will affect the back and forth motion so that they don’t design the swing so inadvertently, with the proper push, a student or--or a--a swinger could swing all--all the way around, loop-the-loop. Um, the performance task requi--requires them to know facts about force and motion, but the task extends their--their--uh, requires them to show they really understand by applying it to a new situation.
To me, one of the most powerful ideas in our profession has to do with how we plan lessons and units of study and entire courses and we believe that a backward planning orientation is very powerful. This has been called other things, design down, uh, start with the end in mind, the same idea. It’s not a new idea, but we be--believe it’s a powerful one. Grant Wiggins and I have chosen to operationalize backward design or planning backwards in terms of three stages. Given the topic that you’re teaching or the content standards that you are, uh, pointing toward, we believe that there are three stages and as a--there’s a logic and a sequence to planning backward. Stage one, we ask people to identify desired results. What do we want as a result of our teaching? And to us, that means more than just knowing the content standards or having goals and objectives in mind. We believe you have to unpack the content standards, prioritize the content or the topic in terms of what are the big ideas we want kids to come to understand. What essential question or questions do we want to pursue? And thirdly, of course, what knowledge and skills do we want them to acquire? So, stage one is thinking carefully about desired results, not just content to be covered, but the important ideas we want to uncover. Stage two of backward design asks us to think like assessors and ask the question, ‘What evidence would you accept that students really understand what you want them to understand? As well as have the facts, concepts and skills that they need to know and do. Thinking like an assessor is placed in stage two before stage three, which is where we plan the teaching and learning activities. The purpose of that is to help people be very clear and sharp about what they’re after. I really believe that you really operationalize your goals or content standards through your assessments. And unless we think carefully about assessment, we could have three teachers teaching to the same standard and teaching it three different ways and assessing the standard in three very different ways. Unless we come to operationalize our goals or standards through assessment, we really don’t have standards in education. So, stage one, be clear about the results you’re after and putting the big ideas you want kids to understand. Stage two, think about assessment. How are you going to know that they really understand and have the knowledge and skills you’re after. And this typically calls for multiple assessments, not a single test at the end. Thirdly, with--with stage one and two clearly in mind, then we plan teaching and learning activities. And my experience is teaching and learning is much more focused, much more purposeful with stage one and two in place. The primary rationale for backward design is to overcome two fairly familiar planning models that we see, uh, in our profession. One is the coverage model. The idea that I have all this content to teach and I only have so much time and my goal is to cover it all and so I’m going to talk fast in class. We can’t waste any time. We got to get through all this material. Well, the problem with coverage, of course, as many people have experienced personally, firsthand, is it’s a bit like throwing content against the wall in hopes some of it sticks. We made the case that our goal is to uncover important ideas in the content and that means going in greater depth and not trying to cover everything on the surface. Backward design helps us avoid coverage problems by saying, ‘Let’s be clear about the important ideas we want students to understand and the assessment evidence that we have to have that helps us make priorities and choices.’ The second familiar planning orientation or teaching orientation that we tend to see more at the elementary and middle school level is what I call ‘activity oriented teaching’ where we do activities with kids and when we plan we plan activities and they may be interesting, they may be hands-on, the kids may like them, but it’s not always clear where the activities are going. You know, I remember, uh, cases of, uh, kids spending more than a week making the, uh, sugar cube model of the Alamo, toward what end? Planning backward helps us be clear about what are the big ideas? What are the assessment evidence? So that our teaching activities certainly can be hand--hands-on and engaging, but they need to be focused and purposeful as well.
The--there’s one more part of this you may edit it out, but just go with the best part. So, this type of planning, this--this sequence, makes sense, there’s a logic to it, so why would we call it backward? Well, we--we refer to the term ‘backward planning’ or ‘backward design’ for two reasons. One, it’s backward in the sense of we have the end in mind and we plan backward from that. That makes sense. But we also would suggest that it’s backward to the way in which people often plan. Either planning activities or planning by virtue of having to cover stuff, typically in a textbook. And this is backward to that--to those habits.
We believe that thinking like an assessor, and in backward design that means, uh, ,stage two, thinking about assessment evidence before we plan activities. Uh, to us it’s really crucial to being clear about our teaching goals and being able to answer the straightforward question, ‘How do we know we got there?’ How do we know the kids understand what we want them to come to understand? Thinking like an assessor means matching the ways and formats of assessment with our goals. So, let me give you a--a particular case. Um, upper elementary school teacher planning an upcoming unit on nutrition, introductory unit, is confronted with the question, ‘So what do we want our kids to know and be able to do and understand from an introductory two to three week unit on nutrition?’ Well, we can identify the facts and concepts and skills. They want--need to know the food groups and the food pyramid and food label information and so on. But the teacher also thought about what’s more enduring? Uh, where’re the understandings we want the kids to come to? And those included understanding, um, that healthy eating is individually based, in other words there are different needs that people have, different ages, different activity levels and so on, have implications for what healthful eating is. And also that planning a balanced diet is not just a script, that there are lots of options and you have to think about, uh, putting together a variety of foods. So, from an assessment point of view, how are you going to know the kids understand that? Here is, uh, the assessment plan that this teacher developed. She is going to anchor the unit in an assessment task where the kids have to plan a three-day menu--or propose a three-day menu plan for meals and snacks for an upcoming outdoor ed experience that the whole class will have. The meals and snacks must be healthy, balanced, or in fact USDA food pyramid guidelines, but also be flexible enough so that--that individual students, uh, can have their dietary needs met. Uh, the--the menu has be tasty enough also so that other 10th grade--uh, ten-year-olds, excuse me, will, uh, be likely to eat it. So, that’s what I call an anchor performance task where they have to take all that they’ve learned in the unit about healthful eating and balanced diets and individual needs and put it together, uh, to plan a menu. Not only do they propose a menu, but they act--have to explain why their menu is healthful, balanced. Now, that’s an anchor assessment, but along the way there’re things that kids need to know and thus, the teacher includes quizzes. So, we’re going to have a quiz on the food groups. A quiz on the food pyramid. We might even have a--a brief essay question that says, ‘What would happen if someone only ate junk food?’ What would happen healthwise? Because these are some things we want them to know and we will check for those. But, notice the distinction. I can give multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank quizzes on facts about nutrition. It doesn’t mean you understand healthy eating and can apply it. The camp menu task gets that application and understanding. So, it’s not either or. You have to know things, but knowing lots of facts about nutrition doesn’t mean you understand it and can apply it. Uh, this, to me, is an example of enduring. We don’t teach nutrition so kids can spout back the food groups. We teach nutrition so people understand what healthful eating is, can recognize healthful and even plan healthful menus and that’s what the task calls for.
I like to use the term enduring understanding as a way of--what--capstone for the important ideas that we want to come--want students to--let me start over on that.
(Mr. Mctighe asks to start over)
One of the, uh, terms that we like to use is, uh, the idea of enduring understanding or enduring knowledge. And this is a term that is, uh, an umbrella for the big ideas that we want kids to come to understand. Uh, all knowledge is not equal, some things are more important than others. And part of the goal of teaching is to be clear about what are the important ideas that we’re going to spend time to uncover or we’re going to go in-depth. Um, the term enduring refers to things that have lasting value. The way I like to think about it is, five years from now when the kids forget all the details, what do you want to stick? Ten years from now, after they’ve left school, what do you hope endures? What are the important ideas and core processes that we want to last? An enduring ideal or an enduring understanding is one that has value beyond the classroom. It’s something that we want to last. Enduring understandings are inherently transferable. Think about it. Facts don’t transfer. Concepts, principles do transfer and--and that’s what we’re after. Um, enduring understandings are also fruitful in application. So we can take a big idea or a core process and use it in a variety of ways. Let me give you an example: Uh, we may study in social studies about the Magna Carta, but we don’t study the Magna Carta to fixate on the date or the place it was signed so much as to get at the larger idea that the Magna Carta suggests. The democratic governments need to balance the rights of individuals with a common good. That a written constitution helps us to define the rights of individuals and helps us avoid abusive government power. This is a big idea and we can take this and look at, for instance, new emerging democracies in other parts of the world and ask the question, ‘How are they safeguarding the rights of individuals with a common good?’ How does their written constitution help to avoid abusive government power? These are enduring ideas that transfer and that--at the heart of government.
Terms of teaching for understanding. Um, we propose a little planning framework, uh, that we call WHERE, W-H-E-R-E. Uh, it’s an acronym. Each letter refers to a planning consideration. Let me touch on, uh, the letters. The ‘w’ in WHERE, uh, asks the question, ‘Where are we going?’ But we don’t pose this from the teacher’s point of view because if you’ve done your job and backward planning stage one and two, you know where you’re going. This is now from the students’ point of view. How do we help the students know where they’re going in the unit? Why we’re going there? What’s expected of them? How will they know when they’re done? These are the things that we want to develop, uh, in the ‘w.’ And again, effective teachers over the years have helped kids know where they’re going and why. Here’s a--a particular example: Beginning the unit with an essential question, ‘What is healthful eating?’ What makes a great story a great story? When is the best answer not the best solution? These are essential questions that open the door to what we’re going to be exploring in this unit and starting with the essential question and unpacking it a bit, helps students kind of know where we’re going. Another example is to give students the performance task or--or performance assessment requirement in the beginning of the unit. So at the end of this unit on force and motion, you are going to design a swing set, uh, and do some experimental inquiry into different, uh, variables of--of force motion mass. Um, you’re going to answer the question, ‘What’s wrong with Holden?’ at the end of our reading and discussion of “Catcher in the Rye.” Having that presented up front to students, the performance task, let them know where we’re going,. We’re going to interpret the story that Holden tells. We’re going to learn about force and motion. And know that they’re going to have to apply that. It makes learning more purposeful and focused. Um, there’s a very straightforward indicator that any teacher can use to check to see if kids know where they’re going. Have a colleague come in and talk to kids at random and ask these questions: Why is--why’re you studying what you’re studying now? What did you do yesterday and how does it relate to what you’re doing today? Do know what you’re going to do tomorrow? Uh, what will you have to do at the end of this unit to show that you’ve really learned what you’re learning? Uh, why is this important to you outside of school? The ‘h’ in WHERE refers to hook..
(Mr. Mctighe is asked to start over)
The ‘h’ in WHERE refers to hook. Again, if we think of education as an itch, not a scratch, how’re we going to hook kids? How’re we going itch the mind to want to explore the topic to be studied? Good teachers, over the years, have used hooks to open the door to itch the mind, to--to get kids into the content. And we believe that because this is a understandably good practice, we should do it by design. Let’s plan hooks for students. Some example of hooks: Uh, a weird fact or an anomaly. The physics teacher that gets the kids, um, up on the second floor stairwell with a marble and a bowling ball and says, ‘If I drop both of these together, which is going to hit first? Put up your hands if you think the bowling ball,’ and most kids will, is a way of hooking them when he says, ‘No, they’re going to hit together.’ Um, essential questions: Why do people sometimes act stupid in groups? is a hooking question. Uh, how can great stories from other times and places really be about me? is a hooking question. You want to know more. Uh, problems or issues. Some people believe that we should all wear uniforms in our school and there’s going to be a vote on the school board next month. What do you think? This actually was a hooking, uh, activity that a math teacher used for statistics. And what they actually ended up doing was doing surveys correcting data on what people felt about the school uniform proposal, uh, organized the data, created graphic displays of the data and then used it in writing a personal letter to the school board with the data that showed that the majority of people in and outside of the school did not approve. So, this is--these are examples of hooks. The ‘e’ of WHERE, the first ‘e.’
(Mr. Mctighe is asked to start over)
The--the first ‘e’ in WHERE refers to equip. And this is straightforward. This says that we plan to equip students with the facts, concepts, skills, learning experiences that will help them come to the understandings we’re after, uh, and be able to perform the assessment tasks that we’ve identified. This is where thinking like an assessor and planning your assessments before your instruction is important. Because if I know that I want my students, for instance, to participate in a debate over an issue and to be able to consider different sides of the case, then I need to equip them, not only with facts and information about the different, uh, perspectives on the issue and information that they can use to make their case, I also need to equip them with some debating skills. And so equipping is not only teaching them the facts and concepts that the content standard calls for, it also equips them for the performances of understanding that we are after.
The ‘r’ in WHERE is probably at the heart of our theory of understanding. The ‘r’ refers to rethink and this is where we ask students to rethink to get them to go deeper, to consider more than just the surface, uh, and we ask students and teachers to rethink by design. So, in our planning, this suggests that patricianly for major units of study where we have important understandings to develop that we deliberately think about how we’re going to have kids rethink. Uh, here’s an example from the first grade classroom: A first grade teacher teaching a unit on friendship. Her essential question: Who is a friend? And they read stories about friendship and they talk about friends. Uh, but then, midway through the unit she asks a rethinking question: Who is a true friend? And is a true friend different than just a regular old friend and how do you know someone’s a true friend? And that’s where they read stories about true friends where the kids begin thinking more that a friend is not just someone you like to hang with and who likes the same things you do, a true friend is one who sticks with you during tough times. Notice how we get the kids to go deeper and think more than just about the qualities of a friend through that question.
The final ‘e’ in WHERE refers to evaluation. But again, we want to keep this from the student point of view more so than the teacher. Yes, we have assessment tasks that we can use to evaluate student learning and the kids need to know what those are so it’s not a mystery. But, the evaluation that we’re after is really more self evaluation. By design, we want to ask students to self evaluate their own learning. To what extent do they understand? To what--what did they learn from doing this activity or this project or this task? What would they do differently next time knowing what they now know? Uh, how did they come to know it? What was easy for them? What was tough? These are examples of self evaluation. We’re really having the kids reflect, be medicognitive, uh, during our, uh, evaluations and self evaluations. A very straightforward, uh, self evaluation activity involves having kids look at their own work using the same criteria or rubric (ph) that you as a teacher would use and see how they’re doing. Uh, and secondly ask the question, or answer the question, ‘What would you do next time to get better knowing what you know now?’ These are straightforward, they don’t take a lot of time, but they’re putting the student now in a reflective mode and we believe that that’s a part of understanding.
One of the terms that’s been popularized over the last decade is the term ‘authentic assessment.’ And my friend Grant Wiggins really coined that phrase and it’s been, um, used in different ways by different people. But to me there’s, uh, something fundamental about thinking about authenticity in teaching and assessment. To me, the straightforward characteristic of authentic teaching or assessment is that we’re involving students in using knowledge and skills in ways in which people beyond the classroom use those knowledge and skills. Uh, simple example: We may teach kids diagramming sentences and have them diagram sentences as a way of helping them understand parts of speech relationship and sentence construction, but we wouldn’t call that a particularly authentic, uh, learning activity. Uh, I don’t know anyone outside of school that diagrams sentences. A more authentic application, of course, would be writing with a purpose, with an audience. And within writing we’re going to look at how well your sentences and paragraphs are organized and make sense. Do they communicate to an audience? This is to distinguish teaching activities like ditto sheets, decontexturalized drill work, diagramming sentences, uh, vocabulary memorization, as different from the use of knowledge. We want to be clear about the difference between means and ends. Um, let me--let me just think about the--the--the connection of habits of mind. OK. If we think about teaching and assessment activities as including authentic applications, this suggests that we frame our teaching around real life or simulated, uh, issues, uh, or problem or situations where students have to take what they have learned or are learning and apply it to a new situation. That reflects how people beyond the classroom use knowledge and skills. Um, this typically means that we have a clear purpose and an audience for what we ask students to do, particularly in the authentic, uh, arena. And that this then calls for them to employ thinking skills and what I like to refer to as ‘habits of mind.’ If the assignment is simply to pick the correct answer, fill in the blank, there’s not a great deal of thinking and not much in the way of habits of mind call for, but if we present students with an issue where they have to think about different points of view, they have to consider the audience, they have to decide how they’re going to persuade the audience to adopt their position, uh, this calls for thinking, analyzing the audience, what they know and don’t know, what’s the best argument. Uh, how can I most effectively convince them? What reasoning needs to be included? Uh, as well as habits of mind like persistence, keeping at it, maybe the first approach didn’t work, being able to intellectually shift perspective and consider other points of view, um, being willing to try something out of the box. Maybe the conventional approach hasn’t been successful so we need to try a new approach. Being sensitive to feedback. When someone reads your persuasive letter and says, ‘This looks like it was written for third graders, not adults,’ being willing to say, ‘Ah, I see what you’re saying. I need to revise.’ These are--are habits of mind that come into play when people are confronted with real life or simulated issues, problems, challenges. Habits of mind like persistence, willingness to look at different points of view, sensitivity to feedback, uh, being willing to think outside the box. And I would argue that these are the qualities that make people successful in the--the adult world of real life and it’s a part of authenticity.
WHERE is a planning, uh, framework. Uh, each letter, uh, of the acronym relates to a planning consideration. The ‘w’ in WHERE, uh, asks us to consider where we’re going from the student point of view, helping the student know where we’re going. The ‘h’ in WHERE refers to hooks. How are we going to hook and engage students in the content to be, uh, uncovered? The ‘e’ in WHERE, the first ‘e,’ refers to equipping students. What will we need to do to equip them, to prepare them, not only to learn what we want them to learn, but to demonstrate that learning through their assessment performance. The ‘r’ in WHERE refers to rethinking. How are we going to help students rethink? Go deeper? This is how we uncover the curriculum, by thinking and then revisiting and rethinking. And the final ‘e’ in WHERE refers to self evaluation. Not only how will we evaluate students, but how will we cause them to reflect on their own learning? To evaluate their own performance? To set goals, to be medicognitive? Those are the, uh, elements of WHERE.
Um, I’ve been an advocate for performance based assessment for a variety of reasons. Um, not to suggest that it’s the only type of assessment we should use because I really believe we should be balanced in our assessment approach, but that if we only rely on multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, true-false, paper-pencil only assessments, we’re really; missing some important things that we need to know about students which performance based assessments can get at. Just in terms of balance. Think about the drivers test as an analogy. Of course we have a paper and pencil part because there’re things that drivers need to know, rules of the road, for example. But there’s also a performance component. We need to know if they can drive, park, um, brake appropriately and so on and so it’s a balanced approach and that’s what I would advocate. On the performance assessment side, I think of performance assessment as having several or important qualities. One is that the performance assessment is set in a context, a meaningful, real world, authentic-like context as much as possible. This asks students to apply knowledge and skills to a new situation. It’s contextualized unlike many, uh, tests or quiz items, multiple choice items, that are decontextualized, they’re not nested in anything. Um, and one of the reasons for emphasizing contexualized,uh, application is that this helps us to see if kids really understand. Yeah, I can plug in the numbers into a--a formula and get an answer, but can I use that in a meaningful way? This may be a digression, but let me just very quickly. Um, here’s an example of the importance of context for assessment. Uh, there’s actually a problem given a couple of years ago on a--a NAPE, a national, um, sampled assessment in mathematics. And this was for eighth grade students. And the problem had to do with, um, their certain number of soldiers that the army wants to transport by buses. If each bus holds 36 soldiers, how many buses will be needed to transport all the troops? Well, it was interesting when the results were tabulated, nearly one-third of all eighth graders that answered the question answered, uh, 31 remainder 12 buses. And it’s indicative of the problem that presumably these kids know division, ie, they know the division algorithm and they plug in the numbers and they’ve probably done worksheets where they plugged in the numbers and got remainders, but in the context of a--of a authentic problem, a real situation, remainder 12 bus has no meaning. And so we would even question do they really understand division if they can’t apply it to a straightforward situation? Remainder 12 bus doesn’t work, uh, and that’s the distinction. Do we want kids to know facts in decontextualized ways? Uh, I would argue that we want to see if they can use the facts and the skills in a meaningful way, that’s what the performance assessment gets at. So, a meaningful authentic context is one aspect of a performance assessment and embedded within that then is that the performance task should have a clear purpose. Our purpose is to persuade, to entertain, to convince, to inform, to move the troops, effectively and efficiently. There’s also an audience for performance assessments, real, if possible, or hypothetical. Uh, example: From a fourth grade unit on state history and geography, a teacher uses the following performance task: Uh, imagine that you’ve been asked by our state tourism council to plan a four-day tour of our state for foreign visitors who speak English. Your task is to plan a tour itinerary around our state to inform the foreign visitors of the key historical sites, let them see the different geographical parts of our state and learn a little about what life is like in our state. Plan your tour accordingly and explain why you’ve chosen your selected sites to best inform the foreign visitors of the state’s history, geography and lifestyle. That, to me, is a qualitatively differently type of assessment than list the five cash crops of Maryland. We want them to know the cash crops, we also want them to show that they understand and can apply and the performance assessment does that. Now, the audience, in this case, is simulated, but it gives a focus and a purpose for why we’re planning a tour. Two other qualities of a performance assessment is, in my view, they should involve thinking and reasoning, not just recall. I like to say that a good performance task calls for the thoughtful application of knowledge and skills, not just giving it back because you can give back facts that you’ve memorized and have no understanding. A simple example: Uh, a mathematics teacher gives students a, uh, earl--uh, a task that is based on a swimming coach. And he gives them a data sheet of the swimming times of eight swimmers for five meets. And the task is, which of the eight swimmers, which four of the eight swimmers, should be on the championship relay? Study the data and then write a note to your coach recommending which four swimmers should be on the relay and why. Now, the initial thought is, ‘OK, this is an averaging problem. You look at the times and you average and you pick the four fastest.’ But the task is more like what happens in the real world? It’s not so neat and clean because when you look at the data on the swimmers one swimmer is actually getting, uh, slower during the year, maybe they had an injury or never went to practice. Uh, and two swimmers are erratic, their times are up and down. Now, we have to do more than just average the times, we have to think about the demand of the task. You want the four fastest swimmers that you can count on for your championship relay. The--the swimmer that’s getting slower might have an average time that’s faster than one of the other swimmers, but now we’re at the end of the season and you want the fim--swimmers that are swimming fastest. Do you want to jeopardize your relay with the erratic swimmer that may miss the flip turn and--and lose the relay for you? This is what I would call thoughtful application. It’s what the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics says we should be doing more in school mathematics, not just plug-in problems, but real life application that calls for thinking, reasoning, and thoughtful, uh, use of knowledge.
A final consideration in performance assessment is--let me start over.
(Mr. Mctighe asks to start over)
A final quality of performance based assessment has to do with criteria. Because performance assessments typically don’t yield a single correct answer, we need to base our evaluation of student products and performances on judgment. But our judgment needs to be guided by criteria. So, we don’t really have a performance based assessment unless we also have companion criteria or a rubric that we can use to evaluate student responses, products, or performances to the task. So, performance based assessment is inherently judgment based, guided by criteria.
To me, performance based assessment has four fundamental criteria. Let me just..
(Mr. Mctighe starts over)
To me, performance based assessment has four key qualities. One, the assessment task is set in a context, an authentic, meaningful real world-like context. Secondly, there’s an audience and purpose for what students are doing in the task. It may be a real audience or it may be hypothetical or simulated, but there’s a purpose and audience identified. Thirdly, the task calls for what I like to describe as ‘thoughtful application.’ It’s just not recall or plug-in, it’s thoughtful application that involves high-order thinking and reasoning. You have to think in order to accomplish the demands of the task. And finally, performance based assessments, uh, include criteria. We need criteria to help us and students judge the effectiveness of their product or performance.
To really do a complete job of teaching and assessment we have to include, uh, communicational reporting. Uh, how are the students doing and what is our method for communicating this to them and to their parents? Um, I believe that standards based education, uh, will not be completely, uh, fulfilled or realized unless and until we see changes in teacher grade books and report cards. Because right now, in my exierpeince, the typical grading and reporting systems that most people use, or are obliged to use, are really out of sync with the kind of, uh, learning called for in the standards or the kind of assessments that more and more teachers are using. Um, so I like to think about reporting, uh, as in the box and out of the box. Within the box, this suggests that we take much more time and care and caution into finding exactly what we mean by grades. Because right now, as we know, three teachers could have the same student, look at the same work and grade it very different ways because they bring different qualities and criteria to their grading. Um, in the box, if I could make one change in grading policies, it would be to separate out factors other than student learning and achievement from the grade. That would include things like effort, work habits, turning work in on time, doing homework, attitude, behavior, attendance, those are important things to report, but they need to be separate from student achievement. If we’re going to report on student achievement, this means that we have some common assessments, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to assess everything the same way, but we need some common core assessments. And we need common grading, uh, criteria that we, a group of colleagues within a school and even across schools, would use in common. Uh, without that, grades really, don’t have much meaning or consistency between and among teachers. Many school districts are doing this, having teachers work together to identify core assessment tasks, agree on criteria, look at student work together and judge it so that we’re more consistent and then separate out other factors as a separate grade or a separate report. Out of the box, now, suggests that we totally revamp our typical report card and make it more standards based. In fact, I would like to see report cards that look more like rubrics where we describe the levels of student performance on agreed upon tasks tied to content standards. Uh, I’m not naive enough to imagine that this will happen overnight, it’s very hard work, it involves getting the parents to understand the change, but I think it’s the right direction toward which we can be moving. Before we get out of the box there’s a lot we can do in the box, however, to make grades more meaningful and consistent to students, uh, and their parents.
While there are many aspects of assessment literacy, if you will, to me the fundamental question is for every teacher to consider, ‘Is what your assessing really providing the evidence of what you really want the kids to learn?’
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While there’s a lot to say about assessment, to me, the quintessential question for every teacher to consider is, ‘Is where I’m assessing really matched to what I want my students to learn?’ And a very direct way of checking that out is to hand your assessments, whether it be quizzes, tests, performance tasks, projects, the description of what you assess, give it to colleagues, particularly someone who doesn’t teach the same grade or subject area and ask them what they infer from your assessments are your teaching targets or your main goals. There should be a good match. Too often, I’m afraid to say, that I think what we assess is that which is easiest to grade and score, score and grade, and not always what’s most appropriate evidence of what we are really after. And so this is something I always emphasize, uh, make sure that what you assess conforms to what you’re after. Is something falling through the cracks because you’re not assessing it or it’s not a good match? That means we need to revisit our assessments.
Uh, here’s my soapbox issue, uh, and this is a soapbox not only for teachers and administrators, but for parents and board of education members. I believe a useful analogy about assessment is to think about assessment as a photo album. The good assessment involves multiple sources of evidence looked at together. Think about it, the analogy, any single assessment, quiz, a test, a--a standardized test from outside is like a photograph. It’s a moment-in-time picture. It gives us information. But we should be cautious about drawing too many inferences from a single pho--photograph. That good assessment requires us to have multiple pictures, taken together, gives us a more complete, uh, accurate and informative portrait of an individual than any single photograph within. So my soapbox is let’s be careful not to fixate on single test scores, especially from external standardized tests, to make judgments about schools, um, student learning, uh, and teacher performance. This is, uh, a flawed model of assessment. Even the tex--the test companies, uh, have that caveat in their test manuals. But in this accountability driven era, there’s a tendency to fixate on single test scores and do rankings and, um, make other judgments that are--are really unsound. Um, the implication, then, for classroom teachers is that we, of course, have a collection of evidence that matches the goals of the targets that we’re after, uh, and that we value these varied sources of evidence. This also suggests that for--as a staff development practice we have more time with colleagues looking at student work and asking the question, ‘What does the work show?’ What are they doing well? What are they really learning? What are the rough spots? Where are the misunderstandings? And what do we do about it? I think in the essence of school improvement, it’s inadequate to wait for the once-a-year standardized test score report to try to figure out how we’re doing. We’ve got the best evidence around us every day, it’s student work and looking at student work with colleagues in--and making sense of it and saying what are we going to do to improve it, is the way of improving learning and school performance. Uh, that’s my soapbox. I want school boards to give more time, with pay, without student for teachers to--to really look at that evidence and I believe tha