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183 of 187 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2006
With respect to some of the previous reviewers, I really don't think they have done justice to this book. I'll completely expose my inner geek and admit that curriculum design is fascinating to me, and add that I own a considerable number of books on the topic. I am particularly interested in differentiating curricula, and I purchase books about educational theory and classroom ideas the way other women purchase shoes--insatiably. I have constantly challenged myself to create personalized lessons with meaningful learning goals throughout my teaching career, but I will say that this book has definitely changed the way I view teaching and curricular design--and for the better.

I liked this book because it embraces the numerous messy variables that exist in the real world of teaching, and provides a template for you to construct meaningful, integrated learning activities for students. These messy variables include differing student interests and abilities, the struggle to keep activities engaging as well as applicable to important premises of a given discipline, as well as logistical restraints, such as time and access to resources. Other models provide neat flow charts that look beautiful, but often prove unusable given a unique teaching situation (and who doesn't have a unique teaching situation?) This philosophy expects messy variability, and gives a vision and a plan to work with that, instead of hoping everything will turn out neatly.

Here are some of the huge ideas I got from this book. First, it is essential to clarify the "so what?" of whatever you are teaching--the big ideas, the principles of the field, the "It" things you want students to come away with. I have always done this instinctively, but I have not been so great about communicating those principles clearly and repeatedly to students (and parents and colleagues). The idea that students can be actively involved in the philosophy and understanding behind the curricular design (as well as, of course, make choices as part of the lessons), was a light bulb for me. Also, teaching often tends to become scattered with lots of facts and pressure to "cover" information, and clarifying these big ideas and working from there makes intuitive sense--if it doesn't connect to the big ideas you've established as critical, then the lesson doesn't belong. Perhaps these ideas seem like huge "duh" statements, but in the real world of teaching, I think very few people manage to adequately establish the critical issues, articulate and refer to them with students, and connect them to related ideas throughout the term. This book really is a valuable resource for doing the hard, thinking work that teachers really are capable of doing. It provides direction in an environment bound by paperwork and directives that have us running in circles. It is not the idea of backward design that's revolutionary, but the practicality of the technique that aligns so well with what good teachers instinctively know works best.

The reviewer who took issue with the philosophy as being problematic because it was inherently incapable of being truly student-driven raises an interesting point, but I'm not sure it's really a downfall of the book. There are very few schools (with a notable exception profiled on 60 Minutes some years ago) which allow students to determine what they will study based solely on their interests. I appreciate the question, and it's a worthy one to discuss--after all, is it only worthwhile to investigate and learn about things that really interest us? Or should every person be responsible for a core set of knowledge before branching into specialization in a field? Most schools operate with the latter premise and have requisite standards to be met, so a student-driven curriculum is not an option for most teachers. Further, a central tenet of the book relates to designing curricula so that students will "uncover" truths--rather than having a teacher or textbook "tell it" to them--students uncover meaning in an authentic way as it relates to a given topic in a discipline. To me, this is meaning-making--learning--at its best.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2009
I learned about this product in a professional learning seminar at my school before I ever bought the book. The department head discussed the same concepts in a much more concise manner. The book uses unnecessarily elevated language instead of simply stating the process for implementing backwards design. The text often referred to terms that were only listed in the glossary, and the glossary definitions were presented in jumbled and vague language. The concept and process is only clear to the reader because of the sample handouts in the text. Had I not known about backwards design before reading this book, I would not have implemented the concepts unless required to do so because the process (as explained in the book) contains many more steps than necessary to achieve the desired result.
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72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2007
Whether the human mind is capable of understanding the process of understanding is a philosophical conundrum that has occupied the time of great thinkers from the pre-Socratics to the modern-day exponents of the theory of the mind. It is against this background that McTighe and Wiggins, respected American education researchers and theorists, attempt to say important things about understanding to teachers hoping to improve their lessons and their lesson planning.

Their book sets out to do this largely by attempting to clarify some pragmatic trivia in a well ploughed field. Unfortunately, the reader is soon furnished with ample evidence that McTighe and Wiggins are patently out of their depth in this field. Their definition of understanding is an extremely poor one - "that a student has something more than just textbook knowledge and skill - that a student really `gets it.' " - although, to be fair, their definitions of assessment and curriculum are much sharper and better considered, and remain useful even outside the context of this book.

What the two researchers can achieve is the definition of a series of facets that they themselves create - the Six Facets of Understanding. One is immediately reminded of Bloom's taxonomy here, but McTighe and Wiggins claim that their research supports the notion that this rubric is valuable for teachers seeking to deepen the understanding of students in their classes.

Typically, for this type of book it is the anecdotal evidence they cite which remains in the mind. There is a tradition of made up anecdotal evidence being perfectly acceptable in American education research - as long as it describes patterns of behaviour that are empirically evident in schools. I have strong reservations about the validity of making up classroom scenarios, but it is possible that this fictional anecdotal approach can occasionally be useful in clarifying areas of learning that are hazy. My problem with this book is that if McTighe and Wiggins are relying upon empirical data to persuade the reader to accept their facets of understanding rubric, then they themselves are recognizing only one of many possible definitions of what understanding is.

In my view, the six facets allow the teacher or assessor to assert that the participator in a lesson influenced by Understanding by Design has been advanced further along an arbitrary linear spectrum called "Understanding" than might otherwise have been the case. No more and no less.

The book is, therefore, mainly an explanatory footnote to the six facets rubric. It's a useful rubric for accomplishing some pragmatic classroom tasks, but it has nothing new to say about understanding.

If you plan lessons that may broadly be described as

* open ended

* based on standards

* containing clear criteria for student success

* include different ways to ensure student enthusiasm

* flexible enough to accommodate the "teachable moment"

* accessing the higher echelons of Bloom's taxonomy

* integrating skills

then the likelihood is you won't learn anything new from reading Understanding by Design. If you don't already do the above, Understanding by Design may be a useful tool towards self-improvement as a teacher.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2010
Others have already stated my opinion. The useful points in this book would be better stated in a booklet. The authors ramble on needlessly when, in reality, they should have backward-mapped their own main points, stated them, and then stopped typing. The extra babbling detracts from the main points: backwards mapping and six facets. This stuff would stick in the reader's mind more if the authors got out of the way, but then I suppose they wouldn't make dough by selling textbooks would they?
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2009
I think the premise of the book was excellent, but the manner in which it was presented was, at times, redundant. I think the authors could have made the book more concise and to the point. From time to time, it seemed like the authors were simply caught up in the verbage and not an effective point.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2013
As I write this review, I'm re-reading a section called "coverage versus uncoverage." It takes more than two full pages of boring anecdotes and inane truisms to tell the reader what they've already been told in previous chapters: relying on the textbook is bad and engaging lessons are good. The next section, occupying another two pages, repeats the same thing in a different way. The rest of the book is not much different. While there are occasional interesting and useful points, they are not easy to find.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2010
I purchased this book for a graduate class. This is by far the most well written and enlightening book I've ever read on the subject of teaching. The Six Facets of Understanding, in my opinion, are a better approach than Bloom's Taxonomy. The writers have a talent for deeply explaining information and making sure the reader understands what is being said. Buy this book and you will not be disappointed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2010
As a Career and Technical Education instructor (Vocational Ed in some states), I haven't had to go through the traditional education school path. I feel very fortunate that this book was my formal introduction to deliberate curriculum design. The authors provide a lot of ready-to-use tools for instructional unit design and present a streamlined approach to getting the most out of contact hours with students. Backward design has informed my practice in my first year of teaching and I feel students have benefitted. Highly recommended for instructors who don't have existing curriculum support and who want to take the time to craft meaningful learning experiences for their students.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2008
I used this book as part of a graduate level class. The book is quite informative and gives great ideas on how to teach for results instead of just covering necessary material. Basically, it tells teachers to start with goals, then work backward to the introduction and teaching of the material. There are other similar strategies out there, but this is very specific as to curriculum design. It gets repetitive, but it is useful overall.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2013
Understanding by Design is a technical publication for building curriculum using the backward design process. This book helps instructors support their work by implementing Essential Questions so that a course can be built around the end result and focused on understanding rather than milestones and tasks. It is a pretty basic lesson planning guide - almost a 101 for teachers of anything. It lacks a few fundamental ideas, such as using taxonomy as a basis for questioning, but I think that the book's primary focus is on building of courses, lessons, and units rather than pedagogical technique.

There are a few things I like about it - it teaches the concepts and also manages to include applicable strategies and forms that will help the instructor build their unit. It is also well written. Some things I don't like is that it is unnecessarily wordy in many places, and it contains many useless graphics that illustrate ideas that are not really difficult for anyone to grasp. One final note is that the author uses unnecessary humor at times that I think really just adds to the wordiness of some topics that are relatively simple to grasp.
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