Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
Printed ISSN 0123-4641 Online ISSN 2248-7085 • January - June 2017. Vol. 19 • Number 1 pp. 140-142.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding
by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development ASCD
Citation/ Para citar este Artículo: Dávila, A. (2017). Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development ASCD. Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J., 19(1), pp. 140-142.
Received: 14-Dec-2015 / Accepted: 26-Dec-2016
1 Doctorado Interinstitucional en Educación - Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas, Bogotá, Colombia. intermediatealejo@
Writers and curriculum experts Grant Wiggins
and Jay McTighe present in this second edition of
their best-seller Understanding by Design not only
a framework to work on curriculum design in a more
comprehensive, overarching, and thorough way but
also a pedagogical as well as educational perspective
that encourages teachers, students, administrative
staff, and even policy makers, to reconsider the
purpose, objectives, and impact that a thoughtful
curriculum design can have for the community in
which it is implemented. In this book, the authors
provide a clear depiction of both the theoretical
foundations and the practical elements putting
everything together for the construction of the
design of learning. The different chapters follow their
three-staged backward design idea which I consider
useful for a full understanding of this innovative way
of planning and designing a curriculum.
The first seven chapters deal with the most
important aspects of the curriculum design, namely,
established goals, understandings, essential
questions, skills, and knowledge. In chapter one,
the main components and pedagogical stance of
the tool called backward design are presented.
The backward design tool is shown as a template
for better planning and understanding of both the
teaching and learning processes. Here the authors
call our attention on two of the most recurrent
mistakes of traditional design, coverage and activity-
oriented design. At this respect, it is important to
remark that many times teachers, who are the ones
in charge of developing the curriculum, focus their
planning in assuring that they cover all of the topics
suggested either by governmental policies such
as standards, or concentrate more on the type of
activity to be carried out by students paying little
attention to the real purpose, usefulness, and impact
on students understanding of the topic.
The second chapter is remarkable as it touches
the topic of understanding, reflecting upon the
way teachers understand understanding taking
into account that it is one, if not the ultimate,
goal in education—to look for the best way for
our students to understand something. Following
(Dewey, 1933) and (Perkins, 1992), Wiggins and
McTighe reflect upon this concept and characterise
it as a mental construct made by the human mind
to take sense of many pieces of knowledge. It also
involves transferring what the student has learnt to
new situations and using this knowledge creatively,
flexibly, and fluently in problems.
The third chapter is devoted to guide those
committed in curriculum design to state clear
and reachable objectives. Here, they remark the
limitations that the use of standards has. First,
teachers may face an overload for the short period
of time allowed in schools. Second, they are either
too big or unreachable or too small missing the big
ideas of the concept. Finally, standards are open to
an infinite number of interpretations which defeat
the initial aim of the implementation of standards
Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development ASCD
Dávila, A. (2017). Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005) • Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
Printed ISSN 0123-4641 Online ISSN 2248-7085 • January - June 2017. Vol. 19 • Number 1 pp. 140-142
that is to provide “clear, consistent and coherent
educational goals” (p. 62).
Complementing the ideas stated in chapter two,
in the chapter five, the authors propose an alternative
perspective in the conception of the concept
understanding. By developing a multifaceted view
of this concept, they consider that when a person
understands there are six different aspects which,
instead of taking place one after another as in
Bloom’s taxonomy (cited in Anderson, Krathwohl,
& Bloom, 2001), may occur simultaneously. Those
facets are: explanation, interpretation, application,
perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge.
In order to conclude the first stage of backward
design (identify desired results), chapters five and
six provide useful insights into how to formulate
essential questions which are defined as the best
way to engage students and teachers in the process
of understanding. It is through working and putting
into practice the concepts previously described that
in chapter six, the readers are asked to work on a
kind of DIY workshop whose purpose is to guide
the curriculum designer into a practical exercise of
application and reflection upon the way of crafting
essential questions and understandings.
The second stage of backward design
(determine acceptable evidence) is introduced by
the authors through a shift in the vision teachers
have about assessment. Wiggins and McTighe
suggest that before going on to the creation of
any activity, teachers and curriculum designers
must ask themselves questions like: “what would
count as evidence of successful learning? Or
what counts as evidence of the understanding
sought?” (p. 146). Although out of the routine
of carrying out assessment, the role of teachers
should be characterized as an assessor rather
than an evaluator, that is thinking first about the
activities that will be the evidence of the evaluation,
reflecting upon what is going to be expected from
students’ performance, and leaving the activity
creation for the last step may pose a challenge for
teachers who are used to getting their hands on the
formulation of exercises for students. One positive
result coming from this change is that the evidence
would be more grounded in the real contexts of
those immersed in the process of teaching and
In chapter eight, the topics of criteria and validity
are discussed. Following the idea that understanding
and the performance that students display of it
cannot be assessed by a single and correct answer,
the authors claim that a need for the construction
of a judgement based on criteria should be taken.
They use rubrics as criterion-based tools to assess
students’ understanding and performance of the
different concepts, topics, and ideas posed in the
curriculum. One of the important aspects in the
implementation of rubrics is that through them
teachers should be able to differentiate students’
results if they have developed sophisticated
understanding or if they are just retelling what they
The third and last stage of the backward design
(plan learning experiences and instruction) is
described in chapter nine as the process in which
teachers, more than thinking as designers and
establishing what activities students will do, are
encouraged to think and see student as the person
he/she is beyond the classroom. Teachers in this
stage should reflect about the needs students have
in terms of knowledge, cognitive schemata, and
resources to achieve the desired understandings
and performances established in the first two stages.
They also provide the idea of the WHERETO2
elements for a pertinent and engaging activity plan.
Having explored with the reader all of the stages
implied in backward design, the authors return to the
idea of understanding in chapter ten. This chapter is
linked to the reflections made in chapters one and
two, but at this time they offer a deeper account on
what they imply in the curricular design process.
Concepts such as coverage and uncoverage
together with useful ideas of how and when to teach
guide the teacher toward more purposeful thinking.
Moreover, they claim the need to implement more
strategies of formative assessment in the design of
teaching and learning experiences.
2 The authors use this acronym which stands for where,
hook, equip, rethink, evaluate, tailored, and organized to guide
the planning of activities for students.
Dávila, A. (2017). Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005) • Colomb. Appl. Linguist. J.
Printed ISSN 0123-4641 Online ISSN 2248-7085 • January - June 2017. Vol. 19 • Number 1 pp. 11-24.
In the last three chapters, Wiggins and McTighe
provide the big picture of backward design and
how it could fit into the general curriculum schema
that an institution can have. The reflections made
here guide the teacher as curriculum designer and
developer to adopt a critical position towards his
or her work until that moment. Furthermore, they
recognize that the proposed curriculum design is
not linear and teachers may be constantly going
back and forth while constructing it.
The ideas expressed in this book, the way it is
written by providing real examples taken from real
classrooms, and the permanent invitation to reflect
upon the teaching practice of who is reading it
captivates the reader while motivating him or her
to take a chance to shift those practices in both
the curriculum design and day-to-day classes. In
addition, this book offers more than the presentation
of a comprehensive framework for better curriculum
planning, assessment, and implementation. It
inspires a new and powerful way of seeing education
in any area or level. It invites teachers and other agents
in the process of education to shift their perspectives
towards students, assessment, and teaching for one
in which the focus is not on knowledge but rather on
the developing of real understanding. We may have
seen this idea in other pedagogical approaches or
methods, but what makes this proposal interesting
is that it guides teachers step by step in the creation
and implementation of the proposal while providing
enough practical support.
To sum up, more than a book, Understanding
by Design could be a great contribution to the field
of ELT in that it allows language teachers to truly
develop interdisciplinary work, take the foreign
language as a real vehicle of communication and
not an object of study, encourage students to see
language as a tool to understand their reality and
inspire other members of the process of education
to take active roles.
Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001).
A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing:
A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational
objectives. New York, NY: Longman.
Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the
relation of reflective thinking to the educative
process. Boston, MA: Heath and Company.
Perkins, D. (1992). Smart schools: From training
memories to educating minds. New York, NY: Free
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by
design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development ASCD.