Designing for Understanding
So after investigating learning theories and finding my leanings toward the Constructivists, now I am investigating how to go from theory to practice. In the last post I looked at D. Lee Fink’s “Designing Courses for Significant Learning” and it’s focus on what I referred to as the three-legged stool of learning goals, learning activities and assessment. Obviously another major course design work is by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe and I would be remiss if I didn’t dive into “Understanding by Design” (UbD).
First I was struck by the similarities between the two. The most obvious comparison is that they both rely on backwards design, starting with your goal and designing activities and assessments that scaffold up to that goal. I’m a big fan of this approach and was surprised when I reflected that I really didn’t truly plan lessons in this manner. Sure I knew what was on the summative assessment and made sure my lectures or activities would result in the knowledge necessary to answer those questions. However, I wasn’t as intentional about considering the learning goals outside of simple content and making sure my activities and assessments lead to these learning goals. Fink helped me stabilize much of this in my head for the entire scope of the entrepreneurial class. Where I noticed the biggest departure with UbD is that is got more granular in its template. So instead of looking at the entire course and the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”, UbD lent itself to designing a unit of study in the class.
UbD states that “ choices about teaching methods, sequence of lessons and resource material – can be successfully completed only after we identify desired results and assessments and consider what they imply” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). We can immediately see the backward design element that will guide our unit of study. We begin with stage 1 where we determine what are our desired results. This is a great place to insert standards if you have them. Since we do not use TEKS or other mandated standards, I used our Oakridge Classroom Environment tenets as guide posts. Once we determine the desired results, UbD asks us to frame these understandings in terms of questions. These essential questions and understandings serve as a great way to reach the key understandings and skills the learners will acquire during this unit. Then we move to stage 2 where we determine what evidence learners will need to provide to demonstrate their understanding. This evidence can be in the form of performance tasks, formative, summative and self assessments as well as reflections. Finally in stage 3 you actually design the major learning activities and lessons. These should be identifiable by what UbD refers to as WHERETO elements.
WHERETO is an acronym for considering and self-assessing the key elements and logic of a learning plan:
- Where: ensuring that the student sees the big picture, has answers to the “Why?” questions, knows the final performance expectations as soon as possible
- Hook: immersing the student immediately in the ideas and issues of the unit, engaging the student in thought-provoking experiences/challenges/questions at the heart of the unit
- Equip & Experience: providing the student with the tools, resources, skill, and information needed to achieve the desired understandings; and successfully accomplish the performance tasks
- Rethink: enhance understanding by shifting perspective, considering different theories, challenging prior assumptions, introducing new evidence and ideas, etc. Also: providing the impetus for and opportunity to revise prior work, to polish it
- Evaluate: ensuring that students get diagnostic and formative feedback, and opportunities to self-assess and self-adjust
- Tailor: Personalize the learning through differentiated instruction, assignments and assessments without sacrificing validity or rigor
- Organize: Sequence the work to suit the understanding goals (e.g., questioning the flow provided by the textbook, which is typically organized around discrete topics)
To further understand the process, I designed a unit over marketing for the entrepreneurial class.
As you can tell UbD and Fink’s 3-column can be very symbiotic in designing the entrepreneurial class. Fink lends itself more to the overall course design while UbD makes more sense to me as a guide for each unit of study. I look forward to using this method to continue to work with our teachers and mentors in the future of the course development.
Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design, expanded 2nd edition. London, England: Pearson.