Tribute to Grant Wiggins
The most successful teaching begins, therefore, with clarity about desired learning outcomes and about the evidence that will show that learning has occurred.
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units
Grant Wiggins was a writer, blogger, speaker, advocate, educator, tweeter, consultant, thought leader, change agent, musician, and lifelong learner. He was someone I respected and his work guided my work as an educator. There is no educator who had a greater impact on how I view curriculum design than Grant Wiggins. Jay McTighe certainly receives much of the credit for supporting my work, because the two were such a dynamic team with Understanding by Design (1998) and all of the articles and resources that followed.
Grant encouraged educators to ask questions, such as: What is education? What is art? What is understanding? How can we support student understanding? How does media literacy impact a person’s ability to understand current events? What is a democracy? What is the role of K-12 schools in a democracy? Does teaching lead to student understanding?
As I reflect on the influence that Grant had on my life and on thousands of educators around the world, I want to share a written tribute. It is difficult to imagine waking up on Monday morning and not reading Grant’s latest article in Granted, and……He made webinars with ASCD, posted videos on YouTube, and wrote numerous articles which informed educators on how to support student understanding. A focus on student understanding is the most pure way to transform teaching and learning. Understanding by Design (UbD) includes assessment, but it does not focus on test prep or multiple choice. When educators focus on understanding, curriculum design, differentiated instruction, personalized learning, and instructional strategies become part of the conversation.
Schooling at its best reflects a purposeful arrangement of parts and details, organized with deliberate intention, for achieving the kinds of learning we seek. (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007)
The ultimate validation of a curriculum lies in its results; that is, did it help students achieve the desired outcomes? (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007)
Ensure Learning Occurs
The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn't, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often. (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007)
Although the universal teacher lament that there's no time for such feedback is understandable, remember that "no time to give and use feedback" actually means "no time to cause learning." (Wiggins, 2012)
In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build? (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)
Twin SIns of Curriculum Design
Activity-Focused and Coverage-Focused (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)
Students cannot possibly learn everything of value by the time they leave school, but we can instill in them the desire to keep questioning throughout their lives. (Wiggins, 1989, The Futility of Trying to Teach Everything of Importance)
Grant had a doctorate degree from Harvard University, but his writing style made it feel like you were having a conversation with the nextdoor neighbor. He compared teaching and learning to coaching soccer. He also painted a picture of how all schools can support understanding. The guidelines he provided for crafting powerful essential question changed conversations about teaching and learning. In 2010, I wrote Curriculum Development: What Would Tyler Do (WWTD)? Tyler’s work influenced Grant’s thoughts on teaching and learning. I was surprised when Grant wrote a reply to the ASCD EDge article. He shared some of his favorite Tyler quotes and stories. Grant was a connected educator. How many authors do you know who tweet, blog, and connect with their audience? He was passionate about transforming teaching and learning, one classroom at a time ---- and he did.
Grant spent his entire life encouraging teachers and administrators to raise the bar for students. He used his gift of writing to make us think of a better education system for our youth. He challenged educators and policymakers to leave the status quo behind. The questions he posed often had a greater impact on school improvement than school improvement plans. I have said that Grant Wiggins belongs on the Mount Rushmore for Educators. He will be missed, but his legacy will be lived out in schools around the world. One man, who chose to make a difference - I will be forever grateful for his impact on my life.
If you would like to leave a favorite Grant Wiggins quote or memory, please post your thoughts below.