Sunday, February 17, 2013

Understanding By Design

I recently read The Understanding by Design Framework by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.  Here are the quotes that grabbed me in this summary document.

Key Element #1
Learning is enhanced when teachers think purposefully about curricular planning. The UbD framework helps this process without offering a rigid process or prescriptive recipe.

Finding the right balance between prescription and choice is critical.  There need to be some clear boundaries that narrow the scope of instruction without cutting off the life flow.

Key Element #4b
This process helps avoid the common problems of treating the textbook as the curriculum rather than a resource, and activity-oriented teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.
 Amen to this!  Teachers can and should think about the goals of instruction, then choose the resources that best meet those aims.  Poorly designed textbooks have been a problem for a long time and until one is written by the best minds, thinking and planning will be required.

Key Questions: How will we know if students have achieved the desired results? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and their ability to use (transfer) their learning in new situations? How will we evaluate student performance in fair and consistent ways? 

Once we have clearly articulated goals, we need to answer these question explicitly.  If the standardized test do not offer a complete picture of student learning (and they don't) we must develop our own organic assessment system that will help teachers, students, and our community KNOW when students have hit the mark and where they still need to grow.

A key idea in backward design has to do with alignment. In other words, are we assessing everything that we are trying to achieve (in Stage 1), or only those things that are easiest to test and grade?

Quality assessment is not easy.  I'm convinced, however, that it's not impossible.  Teachers do many things to assess student growth toward learning goals that we need to come up with a way to capture that information and provide students with feedback and report on student growth to parents and our community with clarity and completeness.

Key Questions: How will we support learners as they come to understand important ideas and processes? How will we prepare them to autonomously transfer their learning? What enabling knowledge and skills will students need to perform effectively and achieve desired results? What activities, sequence, and resources are best suited to accomplish our goals? 

So, what does instruction look like if the stated goal is independent learning?  What instructional routines are crucial for this to happen consistently in every class, every day, for every student?

We have found that backward design, whether applied by individual teachers or district curriculum committees, helps avoid the twin sins of activity-oriented and coverage-oriented curriculum planning.

The bottom line:  Who learned?  Who didn't?  What do we do next to increase the number of students in the first group?

This perceived incompatibility is based on a flawed assumption that the only way to raise test scores is to cover those things that are tested and practice the test format.  Indeed, the data from released national tests show conclusively that the students have the most difficulty with those items that require understanding and transfer, not recall or recognition.

Yes, Yes Yes!  This flawed thinking is the NORM in schools everywhere.  We must understand that aiming at specific standards is way too narrow and low of a bar.  When we aim for deeper understanding we will get both.

Key Questions: What should students know, understand, and be able to do? What is the ultimate transfer we seek as a result of this unit? What enduring understandings are desired? What essential questions will be explored in-depth and provide focus to all learning?

Essential questions provide the purpose that drives all subsequent instruction. Activity grounded in purpose gives meaning to skill development and knowledge acquisition.

Performance tasks based on one or more facets are not intended for use in daily lessons. Rather, these tasks should be seen as culminating performances for a unit of study. Daily lessons develop the related knowledge and skills needed for the understanding performances, just as practices in athletics prepare teams for the upcoming game.

There is definitely a place for deliberate practice in this instructional model.

Teaching for transfer means that learners are given opportunities to apply their learning to new situations and receive timely feedback on their performance to help them improve.

Critique and feedback are another central element if students are to deliver high quality performance.

Because knowledge acquired in a rote manner rarely transfers, there is a need to develop understanding of the larger concepts and processes along with the basics. 

This framework makes sense to me.  What are your thoughts?