UbD Reflections

I recently attended a training on Understanding by Design (UbD) and had some big “ah-ha” moments that I have been thinking about. Several years ago I also went to a week long UbD seminar in which I wrote and published a UbD unit through Trinity University.  I learned an incredible amount there (if anyone gets the opportunity to attend with a Trinity colleague, DO IT!!), but I still feel like I have a lot to remember and expand upon as I deepen my knowledge of UbD. We are in the middle of refining our district curriculum and as it models a UbD template, we are carefully tuning our Transfer Goals, Understandings, and Essential Questions before moving on to Stage 2 (Performance Assessments). So, below is some synthesis of my learning in these three areas.

Transfer has been a bit hard for me to grasp, so I called the presenter over to our table to discuss a bit deeper. I finally understood when she said that transfer is what we want our students to be able to do when they graduate. Then she asked, after 13 years in our district, what is our goal for every math student to be able to do when they leave us? That’s big! This made me think, and she confirmed, that because Transfer Goals should be developed and deepened over time, they could be consistently written across grade levels. How cool would it be for a kindergartener to read and see the same goal for themself that year, in 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd, all the way to their senior year in high school!? How successful would you feel knowing every year you are working towards the same big goal and you will achieve it by the time you graduate? Students do see these with our state Process Standards (for example 1.(F) states the student will analyze mathematical relationships to connect and communicate mathematical ideas) and this is the same description across every single grade level TEKS. Right now we put all our process standards as our Transfer Goals in our units, but do we need to pick the ones that actually apply to that specific unit? I’m not sure. Do we create new ones that are in student friendly language? If these are our broad goals we want students to master within their educational career, how are we as teachers communicating them to students…they’re written in our curriculum, but are we being explicit to students and how can we have them have ownership/buy in over them?

Understandings came to light when the presenter had us think about something we know and understand as well as something we know, but don’t quite understand. For example, a lot of what I know but don’t understand is technology based…I know a text message I send on my iPhone will reach the person, but I don’t understand the Cloud and how it got there. My husband is a basketball coach and during this March Madness time, we have been watching A LOT of basketball. He truly knows and understands the game. Often times before an announcer describes a foul or talks through why a shot attempt was missed, he says exactly what happened. He knows the plays and he understands not only the rules of basketball, but also the intricacies of the skills and how they work together to see the big picture of the game.  To enable our students to reach understanding we have to help our students see the big picture and why/how things work together. To do this we take a set of skills (TEKS) and combine them into one understanding. They should be written as, “the student will understand that…” They are uncovered over time and connect ideas and concepts.

Finally, Essential Questions, are maybe my favorite to think about because these lead to really engaging and intriguing questions that the teacher and/or students can ask. An essential question should be open ended and does not have one single answer. As they are revisited throughout the unit they spark further questions and justification. I am excited we are bringing these into our units and want to help teachers find ways to not only spark discussion with their students, but also keep them alive and visible throughout the unit.

Because so much of this UbD template is not only for the teachers in their planning, but also for the students to take ownership, dive deeper, and make meaning of their learning, I am continuing to wonder how we make these visible throughout the unit. One colleague mentioned they used to post Understandings and EQs around the room to refer to. Does anyone else do UbD consistently and have ways to display/refer to them in a meaningful way? How do you help students wrestle with the ideas throughout the unit? Leave me your thoughts and ideas!

Source: Dr Sandra N Kleinman, MAC McTighe & Associates Consulting

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