Easier said than done… for me.

Joy Wagener

In his post on ProfHacker, Prof. Sample wrote, “The idea behind backward design is simple, yet it’s something I find myself relearning again and again. Even now, as I prep for the upcoming semester, I am tempted to focus on what I want my students to read, rather than what I want my students to understand. It’s a testament to my perennial rediscovery of backward design that I wrote virtually the same sentence as above in my earlier post on backward design—and had forgotten I had done so. I trust (hope?) that I am not the only one who needs gentle reminders about the value of designing curriculum around understanding.”

I concur!  My school district uses Understand by Design (UbD, we call it) and every new employee sits through a week-long orientation on the “system.” Each employee is asked (forced?) to write unit plans for the entire school year using the UbD format.  This is all done at the start of the school year which, frankly, takes away the excitement of it all.  It’s a chore that is often done in a lazy-way in order to move on from it.

Consider that task.  As Sample suggested above, could you write out a UbD for every unit you’ll teach this year?  What if it’s a brand new course? What if you’ve never taught it before? What is your plan needs to change mid-year? I find the concept of UbD’s very exciting and a wonderful prospect.  It’s awesome to be able to teach everything in a way that leads up to the goals / what knowledge and understanding you really want your students to know; however, again and again I find myself straying from the master plan because it is difficult to plan ahead, it feels like a chore, or I stumble upon something else great in my planning process later in the year.

One big reason I stray from the UbD plan is because I find that working towards one major performance goal often neglects other important aspects of the text I might be teaching (I have trouble prioritizing). It’s almost as if I need several UbD’s for each novel or unit. Secondly (and as Wiggins and McTighe mentioned), it is very difficult to give your students the experiences they need in order to meet some of the six facets of understanding, namely empathy, self-knowledge, and application.  So, it’s worth prioritizing what needs to be taught.  And just like Prof. Sample, I need to prioritize my learning goals and, do as Wiggins and Tighe suggest:

  1. “To what extent does the idea, topic, or process represent a ‘big idea’ having enduring value beyond the classroom?”
  2. “To what extent does the idea, topic, or process reside at the heart of the discipline?”
  3. “To what extent does the idea, topic, or process require uncoverage?”
  4. “To what extent does the idea, topic, or process offer potential for engaging students?”