woensdag 29 juni 2011

MSU2011: Understanding by Design

Day 8 of the busy schedule of the MAET students at MSU.. Today's topic? Understanding by Design (Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe), a tool for educational planning focused on "teaching for understanding". The emphasis of UbD is on "backward design", the practice of looking at the outcomes in order to design curriculum units, performance assessments, and classroom instruction.

Traditionally we as teachers start curriculum planning with the textbook that we want to use instead of identifying classroom learning goals and planning towards that goal (and often we know that that should be the starting point). In backward design, the teacher starts with classroom outcomes and then plans the curriculum, choosing activities and materials that help determine student ability and foster student learning.

Understanding by Design is based on the key ideas that the primary goal of education should be the development and deepening of student understanding and this happens when they are given the opportunity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess in authentic complex activities. In order to reach this the goals of the activity/course have to be clear first (and the method of assessment), and only after this is done the classroom activities can be designed. This process "helps to avoid the twin problems of "textbook coverage" and "activity-oriented" teaching, in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent." (copied from Grant Wiggins website).

[The nice thing is that they also state that "teachers, schools, and districts benefit by working smarter through the collaborative design, sharing, and peer review of units of study", which is at the core of the research program of my research group Curriculum Design and Educational Innovation (CD&EI) at the University of Twente. And.. this is of course also happening at the MAET program. The students are constantly working together, discussing certain issues and giving each other feedback.]

As is often the case with these very nice ideas, it seems obvious, simple and intuitive. You start with identifying the desired results. Questions that should be asked are "what overarching understandings are desired? What will students understand as a result of this unit?" and "What are the overarching “essential” questions? What “essential” and “unit” questions will focus this unit?". After asnwering these questions you determine acceptable evidence (performance tasks, projects, quizzes, tasks, etc., but also observations and dialogues and student self-assessment) and only than you start to plan learning experiences and instructions. While doing this final stage you answer questions like "given the targeted understandings, other unit goals, and the assessment evidence identified, what knowledge and skills are needed? And very important: what teachings and learning experiences will equip students to demonstrate the targeted understandings?

I have to admit that I know that this is a good way to work, but I also have to admit that I often begin at the other side of the design.. And for someone who works at a department on curriculum design... this is.. mmm.. something to change!

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