More Wisdom from Grant Wiggins

In a post from last March, Grant Wiggins published a blog post titled “Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.” It seems here is another connection to our philosophy of Thinking Classrooms. We’ve added an excerpt of his post here, but be sure to check out the full post. Grant Wiggins is the co-author of Understanding By Design, along with many other books, articles and other published works.

So, suppose knowledge is not the goal of education. Rather, suppose today’s content knowledge is an offshoot of successful ongoing learning in a changing world – in which ‘learning’ means ‘learning to perform in the world.’

As odd as that might sound for academics, it makes perfect sense in our everyday lives. The point of child-rearing, cooking, teaching, soccer, music, business, or architecture is not ‘knowledge’; rather, knowledge is the growing (and ever-changing) residue of the main activity of trying to perform well for real.

In athletics this is very clear: the game is the curriculum; the game is the teacher. And each game is different (even as helpful patterns emerge). Knowledge about the game is secondary, an offshoot of learning to play the game well. As I learn to play, knowledge – about rules, strategy, and technique – accrues, but it is not the point.

So, it would be very foolish to learn soccer (or child-rearing or music or how to cook) in lectures. This reverses cause and effect, and loses sight of purpose. Could it be the same for history, math, and science learning? Only blind habit keeps us from exploring this obvious logic. The point is to do new things with content, not simply know what others know – in any field.

Video games are especially startling from the perspective of conventional views of curriculum and instruction. According to the standard view, I should never be able to learn and greatly improve at the games since there is no formal and explicit curriculum framed by knowledge, and – even more puzzling – no one teaches me anything! I shouldn’t learn but I do. In games (and in life), I begin with performance challenges, not technical knowledge. I receive no upfront teaching (or even manuals any more in games and other software!) but I learn based on the attempts to perform and feedback from trying – just as I did when learning to walk or hold a spoon. How is that possible? Conventional views of curriculum and instruction have no good explanation for it.

  • If curriculum is a tour through what is known, how is knowledge ever advanced?
  • If learning requires a didactic march through content, why are movies and stories so memorable – often, more memorable than classes we once took?
  • If a primary goal of education is high-level performance in the world going forward, how can marching through old knowledge out of context optimally prepare us to perform?
  • If education is about having core knowledge, and we are more and more teaching and testing all this knowledge, why are results on tests like NAEP so universally poor, showing that over decades American students have not progressed much beyond basic “plug and chug”?

photo credit: politikill via photopin cc

Posted on January 23, 2013, in Change, Inspiration, Learning, Thinking. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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