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Demystifying UbD: a

Primer
By
Marie Therese Lim-Yason

How do we, as educators, prepare our students to answer the needs of


a generation who will meet the challenges of the approaching mid-
twenty-first century? What will our students require in order to
contribute to a world that is ever-evolving? Will a major part of what
we are teaching now be of significance to what the world is to become?
Where do our priorities lie? How will these priorities shape the world?

Too often, many of us have satisfied ourselves on ensuring textbook


content and its mastery in our teaching. Too often, students have
been content on getting good marks and, after the course, forgetting
about half of what was covered because matters were not fully
understood. There was little means by which students were presented
with situations by which they could see the knowledge and skills
applied in the real world.

Faced with this, how do we create a rigorous and challenging yet


engaging curriculum that would empower a future generation to face
the world and all its ambiguities?

Knowledge of Facts and Skills vs. Knowledge of What to Do


with These Facts and Skills

Understanding by Design (UbD), also called “backward design”, is an


educational planning tool focused on “teaching for understanding”.

Designed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, it looks at the learning


outcomes rather than textbook content and activities in designing
curriculum units, performance assessments and classroom instruction.
With student understanding as its primary goal, UbD offers a flexible 3-
stage design process accompanied by a set of design tools and
standards such that content standards are “unpacked” and
transformed into pertinent Stage I elements and appropriate
assessments in Stage II. Understanding is manifested when learners
are able to independently transfer their learning via authentic
performance through their ability to explain, interpret, apply, shift
perspective, empathize and self-assess.

The teacher’s role is one of a coach – one who designs and supports
meaningful learning and “transfer” by the learner, adjusting the design
to reach intended results. Planning is done with Desired Results
(Stage I) and transfer tasks in mind with Evidences (Stage II) and the
Learning Plan (Stage III) carefully aligned for a unit to be most
effective. Adjustments are done upon regular reviews of the
curriculum against the design standards to ensure quality and success.

Understanding by Design:
Helping students make
knowledge meaningful

Backward design consists of three general stages:


Stage 1: Identifying the desired results of the unit
Stage 2: Determining which evidences of learning are
acceptable
Stage 3: Planning learning experiences and instruction
tailored to address the learning styles and interests of the
students
Designing “backwards” keeps the elements of the unit aligned and
purposeful with the deepening of student understanding as its
goal. This helps avoid the problems of simply teaching according
to what a textbook covers and giving activity-oriented lessons
To avoid
where there design mistakes
is no clear and disappointing
direction or goal. results,
regular reviews of the curriculum and assessment
designs should be done. The 6 Facets of
Understanding and the WHERETO (Where, Hook,
Equip and Experience, Rethink, Evaluate, Tailor, and
Organize) elements aid in maintaining design
standards.
Some UbD Lexicon
Acquire As a level of learning, this refers to the acquisition of knowledge
like facts.
Authentic This describes what someone might be expected to do in the
adult or “real” world.
Big Ideas These are concrete and powerful ideas that help students make
sense of what they are learning in the unit. They are themes, concepts,
principles or theories that will later enable students to connect seemingly
unrelated events to one another.
Make Meaning As a level of learning, this refers to figuring out what the
content or knowledge means.
Performance Tasks These are activities, exercises, or problems that
require students to show what they can do in order to demonstrate a skill or
set of skills and to demonstrate their understanding by applying knowledge.
In designing a UbD unit, designers ensure that the task is authentic, often
having more than one acceptable solution. They require a student to create a
response to a problem and then explain or defend it. In UbD, performance
tasks are considered a type of assessment.
Transfer As a level of learning, this refers to the ability to apply prior
learning to new situations or challenges.

STAGE I DESIRED
RESULTS
“What will the learners get out of this
unit?”

Includes:
Transfer Goals
• State what long-term goals the learner should be able to
do on their own using the skills and knowledge they will
acquire

What long-term accomplishments would my students be


able to do with the knowledge and/or skill on their own?
What can they do with this knowledge or skill?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Refer to mandated National Standards or
School Goals.
In general, these are Curriculum Standards
and Benchmarks that should be framed as
long-term performance accomplishments.

“Understandings”
• Meaningful “big ideas” which can be transferable to
other disciplines and contexts and may not be
immediately be evident or are even prone to
misunderstanding

What are the “big ideas” at the heart of the content


that need to be uncovered?
What understandings and predictable
misunderstandings might arise from them?
Unit Designer’s Notes:
These are principles or generalizations
that will later enable students to
connect seemingly unrelated events to
one another and are stated in full
sentences.

Essential Questions
• Open-ended questions that may lead to a variety of
answers and encourages active investigation, as well as
meaning-making. These may be arguable and looked at
from different perspectives and may recur during the
course of learning.

What questions will provoke inquiry, have no simple


“right” answer, can raise other questions, address the
conceptual or philosophical foundations of a
discipline and are still focused on the learning and
final performances aimed?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Your questions may be overarching,
referring to transferable “big ideas”, or
topical, which are topic-specific. Your
different questions can touch on underlying
concepts, raise the purpose or value of the
unit, and tackle possible strategies in later
employing the concepts or skills in
particular contexts.

Knowledge and Skills


• Knowledge and skills students will acquire as a result of
the unit and what they should eventually do as a result
What resulting key knowledge and skills will my
students acquire? What resulting behaviors will they
have as a result of these knowledge and skills?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Factual knowledge listed here are often the
accepted “truths” upon which a “theory” is
based. They are declarative in nature and
do not transfer.
Skills listed here are simple and discrete
procedures with limited transfer.

2003 ASCD, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

STAGE II
ASSESSMENT
EVIDENCE
“How will the learners show proof of their
learning?”
Includes:
Performance Task(s)
• Evidence(s) of understanding (explaining, interpreting,
applying, shifting perspectives, empathizing and self-
assessing) to see if students can apply their learning to
various situations in the context of the real world;
evaluated using valid criteria and indicators reflecting
Stage I and the quality of performance by the learner;
and best written in GRASPS (Goal, Role, Audience,
Situation, Performance and Standard) format.

Through what appropriate authentic performance


tasks will my students be able to show the desired
understandings? What appropriate criteria can I use
to judge these?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Make sure that the performance task
is authentic and will require the learner
to draw from a repertoire of skills.
Remember! Keep learning goals
constantly in mind when designing
performance tasks. Design from the
viewpoint of an assessor – someone
who is out to find out if the learners are
able to meet the desired results.

See Designer’s Worksheet A


More Unit Designer’s Notes:
Keep in mind the 6 Facets of Understanding:
• Will the student be able to explain by
coming up with a generalization, make
connections, restate in his own words, or
come up with a sound theory?
• Will the student be able to interpret by
offering supporting data, text or experience?
• Will the student be able to apply by
transferring, adapting, adjusting the learning
to new issues and problems?
• Will the student be able to shift
perspectives by looking at things from
different points of view?
Other Evidence
• Includes tests, quizzes, assignments, observations, etc.

Through what other evidence will my students show


achievement of the desired results? How will they
reflect upon and assess their learning by themselves?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Keep in mind that you are designing as
an assessor not as an instructor.
Always keep the desired results as your
target.
STAGE III LEARNING
PLAN
“How will the unit be organized and
presented to the learners?
Includes:
Learning Events
• Aligned with Stages I and II goals and addresses the
acquisition, meaning-making and transfer of learning
where understandings are actively constructed by the
learner; strengthened when the WHERETO (Where,
Hook, Equip and Experience, Rethink, Evaluate, Tailor,
and Organize) elements are included

What engaging and effective learning experiences will


enable my students to achieve the desired results?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Remember to keep your activities coherent,
engaging, student-friendly, and always working
towards the transfer of learning.
See Designer’s Worksheet B

More Unit Designer’s Notes:


Keep in mind the key elements that should
be found in your learning plan:
Where are we going? Why? What is
expected?
How will we hook and hold student
interest?
How will we equip students for expected
performances?
How will we help students to rethink and
revise?
How will our students self-evaluate and
reflect on their learning?
How will we tailor learning to varied needs,
interests and styles?
How will we organize and sequence the
learning?

Teaching
• Instructional approaches, resources and strategies most
appropriate to achieving the goals which are responsive
to the differences in the learners’ abilities and modalities
Based on what I know about my students, what
approaches, resources and strategies would be the
most appropriate in helping achieve the desired
results?

Unit Designer’s Notes:


Remember to keep your students’ interests
and abilities in mind. Keep approaches and
strategies flexible!

Responding to the challenges of helping educators equip themselves with


appropriate and comprehensive learning tools and resources to enable students to
face real-world demands, Rex Publishing continually strives to update, innovate and
develop its wide array of educational publishing materials and related media.
The UbDs in this textbook series are intended to meet the needs of the general
population in the current situation. The needs and demands of students would vary
over time and locale. We strive to make the units flexible and classroom teachers
are encouraged to review the units over time and subsequently adjust them to meet
the needs of their learners.

Bibliography:

Mtyason
2009

DESIGNER’S WORKSHEET A

Stage II
Constructing an authentic scenario for performance
tasks using GRASPS

The scenario will include a:

Goal: What is the goal or challenge statement in the


scenario?

Role: What role will the student play in the scenario?

Audience: Who is the audience or the client the student is


concerned with in doing the task?
Situation: What is the setting or context? What are its
constraints and opportunities?

Performance: What specific performance or product is


expected?

Standards: How will the performance or product be


judged?
Keep in mind the 6 Facets of Understanding:

Will the student be able to explain by coming up with a


generalization, make connections, restate in his own
words, or come up with a sound theory?
Will the student be able to interpret by offering
supporting data, text or experience?
Will the student be able to apply by transferring, adapting,
adjusting the learning to new issues and problems?
Will the student be able to shift perspectives by looking at
things from different points of view?
Will the student be able to empathize by stepping into the
shoes of people or characters?
Will the student be able to show self-understanding by
reflecting metacognitively, assess himself and see the
limitations of his understanding?

Mtyason
2009

DESIGNER’S WORKSHEET B
STAGE III
Constructing a Learning Plan

What learning/s do I want my student/s to


acquire?
How will he be able to make meaning of it/them?
How will he be able to show that this/these
learning/s has/have been transferred from one
context to another?

Keep in mind the key elements that should be found in your learning
plan:

Where are we going? Why? What is expected?

How will we hook and hold student interest?

How will we equip students for expected


performances?

How will we help students to rethink and revise?


How will our students self-evaluate and reflect on their
learning?

How will we tailor learning to varied needs, interests


and styles?

How will we organize and sequence the learning?

Mtyason 2009