What is Understanding by Design? Author Jay McTighe explains.


[MUSIC PLAYING] JAY MCTIGHE: Hi, I’m Jay
McTighe I’m an education author and consultant. And my main work is
around Understanding by Design, which is a framework
for curriculum planning, for assessment design, and
ultimately, for teaching, with a goal of teaching for
understanding and transfer. [MUSIC PLAYING] The key ideas in
Understanding by Design are contained in its
title, and thereto. Number one, we propose
that we teach and assess for understanding and transfer. And some people say,
well, of course, doesn’t every teacher
want their students to understand what they teach? Well, perhaps, but the
devil’s in the details. To say we’re committed to
teaching for understanding raises an immediate question– what’s worth understanding
in all of the content that we could teach? And this is a
challenge for teachers because every subject
area has so much content. And there are also
some things we value in school that transcend
subject or discipline areas, like critical
thinking, creativity, the ability to work with others. So the challenge of so
much that we could teach is addressed in part
by saying but what’s most worth understanding. And we propose, in a
straightforward way, that what we want
students to understand are the larger
transferable concepts and processes within
and across subjects. If we’re clear about
those big ideas that we want students
to understand, it gives us a way
prioritizing our teaching and focusing our curriculum. It also implies that we’re going
to assess for understanding. Meaning, just because
a student knows things doesn’t mean they understand it. So it suggests that
our assessments include not just tests
of facts or basic skills, but assessments
that have students to show their understanding
through transfer. Can you use what you’ve
learned in a new situation? Can you explain it
in your own words? Can you teach it
to someone else? So the first part of UBD
is teaching and assessing for understanding, ultimately,
with the goal of having kids transfer their learning. And our curriculum planning
is done accordingly. The second big idea in
Understanding by Design is by design. And we refer to a process
that we call it, quote, backward design, where we’re
planning backward from the end. And the end is
understanding and transfer. Not covering content, not
marching through textbooks, not doing fun activities only. We’re teaching and assessing
for understanding and transfer, and we plan backward for that. The idea of backward
design or backward planning is certainly not new. We do it when we
plan a vacation, we do it when we design a house. But in teaching, it’s
sometimes the case that teachers tend
to get, perhaps, somewhat narrowly focused
on all the material they have to cover or
marching through a textbook, and that’s not backward design. It’s just covering things. So backward design is a way of
thinking, a way of planning, and in UBD we have a planning
template that guides teachers in this process. Those are the two big ideas
of Understanding by Design. [MUSIC PLAYING] People who’ve been introduced
to Understanding by Design and want to extend
it further, there are a few pieces of
advice I’d offer. I’m going to start
with teachers. Understanding by Design is, I
believe, a rich and effective planning framework for
planning from curriculum standards or national curriculum
or achievement outcomes. But it’s not a simple
planning framework. And when people
get into it, they realized it’s not
easy necessarily. So my advice, accordingly,
is for teachers to think big, start small,
and go for an early win. And by that, I mean, think big. If you like the Understanding
by Design framework, think about maybe
two or three years from now that you want most
of your teaching planned in this way. But start small. This is hard to do. It’s hard to do well, and
so don’t kill yourself. Start with maybe one
or two units a year. If possible, work with
a colleague or a team. Try your unit out, revise
it based on how it works and what didn’t work, and you
will find that in so doing, you’ll better
understand the process. The next unit you
develop will be easier, and over time, it will
become a way of thinking. The go for the early part
win part of my advice is to suggest that as a teacher,
don’t pick your toughest unit or a brand one
you’ve never taught or one you really don’t like. Pick your favorite, pick
a unit that has really worked for you of the past,
use Understanding by Design to embellish and enhance it. That’s an early
win, and it’s easier to build from that than
trying to do too much too soon and just overwhelming yourself. Now for school leaders,
the same maxim applies– think big. If you think the Understanding
by Design framework is important and useful, think
about how two, three, four years from now
you’d like to see it as the lingua franca in
your school, the framework that everyone knows
and works with. But that’s a long term goal. Start small. So invite a small
group of teachers to try their hand at
planning a UBD unit. Let them do it in a
team if at all possible. Maybe you even get a substitute
or release day for them to work on it and
let them try it out. Having a small
number of teachers try out UBD and get comfortable
with it and see its value, will then help you sell
it to larger groups. So think big with a long
term goal for your school, start small. Start with volunteers or a small
group, and go for an early win. Invite the people who you think
will like this, who resonate with this kind of
teaching and planning, and who are open and interested
in trying new things. One of the best ways of
killing UBD at the school level is for a school leader to
mandate it for everyone without proper training,
support, or rationale of why we’re doing this. Think big, start small, involve
a volunteer group of teachers, and build from there. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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