Wiggins and McTighe on Learning Ideas

Dewey’s genius grasped the educational principles underlying such sequences. Coming to understand an established idea in school must be made more like discovering a new idea than like hearing adult knowledge explained point by point. We learn complex and abstract ideas through a zigzag sequence of trial, error, reflection, and adjustment. As the facets tell us, the student needs to interpret, apply, see from different points of view, and so forth, all of which imply different sequences than those found in a catalog of existing knowledge. We cannot fully understand an idea until we retrace, relive, or recapitulate some of its history—how it came to be understood in the first place. The young learner should be treated as a discoverer, even if the path seemed inefficient. That’s why Piaget argued “to understand is to invent.”

Excerpted from: Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1998.

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