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Understanding by Design (UbD): The Backward Design Process urges schools and districts looking to improve instructional practices both in classrooms and school systems to first think carefully about the desired results and then work backwards to develop meaningful assessments and learning goals to achieve desired academic results. Understanding by Design process is infused with Bloom's Taxonomy Higher Order of Thinking strategies throughout the model and pushes teachers to implement solid, authentic learning and assessments for students to connect and make meaning of the content. As designers of student learning, teacher's have a critical role in the Backward Design Process. The teacher's role is to utilize standard-driven curriculum, informative assessments of students understanding and develop effective and engaging learning activities to enhance school and student performance. According to Wiggins and McTiche, 2008, UbD process helps avoid the twin problems of "textbook coverage" and "activity oriented teaching" in which no clear priorities and purpose for learning are apparent. Whether or not UbD will have long term positive effects on student achievement, its Design process has struck a chord with American Education. More than 15 University education classes use the Understanding by Design textbook and many states have adopted core elements of the Design in developing teaching guides for state Standards of Learning (Wiggins & Mctighe 1998).
Understanding by Design is a new way of thinking about the design of curriculum, instruction and assessment to create learning for understanding rather than focusing on merely covering content. The Backwards Design process places focus on desired results of instruction first, rather than starting with planning lessons around the textbooks, activities or materials. With state mandates and standardized tests results looming, teachers are more likely to be spending time teaching test taking strategies and recitation methods in hopes that more students will become proficient. The effects of this narrow focus is students typically perform well on test items that focus on recall and basic skills but do poorly on items requiring application, analysis and explanation( ). Students seem to know the material but don't know how to apply their knowledge. Further, over time students the start to exhibit boredom, passivity and apathy towards learning because of the lack of clarity about learning goals and how these goals can enable them to apply what they have learned to issues and problems they will address in the future. The Three Stage Backward Design Process brings meaning to learning and clarity curriculum planning by focusing on (1) desired results (2) analyze multiple sources of data and (3) determine the appropriate action plans.
In this stage desired results of instruction is the main focus of teachers or school improvement teams. Teachers are involved in three specific tasks: identifying understanding, identifying essential questions and identifying other important knowledge and skills that will result from the content.
Identifying Understanding: Teachers will have to really analyze what is the most essential and enduring understandings that should result from the content. This is a difficult task because the curriculum identified by textbooks national, state, and district standards is far more than can be covered in a nine month school year. Determining the desired results of instruction needs to be a thoughtful and meaningful process to prioritize content knowledge in order for students to retain big ideas long after they have forgotten details about them.
Identifying Essential Questions: Now that the teachers have determined curriculum priorities and desired results for the content, the next step is to create essential questions. Essential Questions can be the doorway to learning for understanding. They can provide learners with a focus on the learning goals and invite them to think about interesting problems that they might not have perceived as questions before. More importantly essential questions provide students with a clear direction for inquiry and purpose as they engage in learning activities.
Identifying other important knowledge and skills: Knowledge and skills should be included in content planning as well because they are related to the essential understanding that focuses the content. These two key elements in planning are allocated curriculum (time and attention) for teachers to plan learning experiences to help students understand key concepts.
Analyze Multiple Sources of Data
In stage two of the Backward Design process, the teacher's attention is turned to considering the evidence needed to judge whether the intended results of instruction were achieved and how well they were achieved. To provide a full understand of identified goals, school improvement teams and teachers need to formulate and analyze multiple sources of data, examining a "photo album" of assessments evidence instead of looking only at the snapshot provided by a single tests (McTighe and Thomas, 2003). Educators need to be open minded about what evidence of knowledge, skills and understanding can be provided by various assessment methods. All learning cannot be appraised by quizzes and test and not all learning must be appraised by performance tasks and projects. The quizzes and test evaluation approach would not be able to determine if the learner has achieved a full understanding of the content. Performance learning, a more sophisticated and time consuming approach, the same data could be acquired through much simpler and more efficient techniques. ( McTighe and Wiggins 1990) identifies common characteristics of authentic performance tasks and projects.
Requires judgment and innovation
Asks a student to do the subject
Assesses a student's ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task.
Determine an Action Plan
After identifying learning goals and analyzing assessment data, the final stage of UbD is to plan learning experiences and determine an action plan focused on obtaining desired student results. Many educators may think of this stage first when planning units of instruction, the backward design process enables teachers to focus on the design of learning activities and experiences only they have examined root causes of present achievement level.
The acronym WHERE is a Stage 3 design tool for the planning of learning experiences and activities offered by (McTighe and Wiggins 1999). WHERE is based on research and classroom test practice. The acronym is defined as follows:
Where is the unit headed and what is the purpose of day-to-day work?
Hook the students through engaging work that makes them more eager to explore key ideas.
Explore the subject in depth, equip students with required knowledge and skill to perform successfully on final task and help student experience key ideas.
Rethink with students the big ideas; students rehearse and revise their work.
Evaluate results and develop action plans through self-assessment of results.
Understanding by Design shakes up conventional thinking about teaching and learning. At first read the process seem quite cumbersome and even more difficult when thinking about attempting to use it at the school level. How do you shift the mindset of the teachers and get them to buy into another education trend? Peeling back the layers, the process is really quite simple: begin with the end in mind, identify evidence of quality performances and focus engaging learning experiences on the desired results. The work required by Understanding by Design process appears to be no more work or time consuming than traditional ways of developing units. UbD allows for collaboration, deeper understanding of the content and in depth learning for students and teachers.