Grant Wiggins Promotes Education by Design to Future Educators

June 01, 2010

 

Student assessment is currently a hot topic, but how do you accurately measure what students are learning? According to Dr. Grant Wiggins, the answer is simple.

 

"A student should be able to answer the question, What's the big idea?," says Wiggins.

It may be a simple concept, but one that Wiggins says should be the core of all classroom lesson plans. Educators are reading Wiggins' books on the subject, and he is a much sought after speaker in educational venues across the country. Mount Union College's Dr. Tom Gannon, associate professor of education, provided introductions and welcomed Wiggins to campus, where he spoke to education majors at a recent convocation.

According to Wiggins, if you ask most students to intelligently use what they have learned and apply it to different situations, the majority of them cannot do it. While they may understand that particular project, they don't grasp the bigger picture, what Wiggins refers to as "the big idea." Wiggins is the author of "Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing," and "Understanding by Design."

"I like to go into a classroom, sit down next to a student engrossed in a project and ask them why they are involved in this activity and how will it help them," said Wiggins. "They will almost always respond that they are doing this because the teacher told them to do it! The fact is, you can do well in school if you are bright, trust adults and work hard. That does not mean you understand the ?big idea,' or how to apply what you have learned to situations outside of what you are presented in the classroom."

The concept of "Education by Design," which is practiced and taught to education majors at Mount Union, is to design the teaching methods based on what performance is desired. Wiggins says that the assessment tests have shown that most students cannot intelligently use what they have learned by applying it to situations outside of what was presented in the classroom.

"The textbook is not a syllabus, it is a resource," says Wiggins. "You need to change the focus from teaching and hoping for the best to coaching learning."

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