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Understanding by Design (UbD)

UbD offers a planning framework to guide curriculum, assessment and instruction with a focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and transfer. Defined Learning provides sets of performance tasks, literacy tasks and constructed responses in which students engage in “real world” applications of key concepts and skills. In Jay McTighe’s whitepaper, he describes the complementary connections between Understanding by Design and Defined Learning.

Key Ideas

The two key ideas of Understanding by Design are contained in its title: 1) focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and transfer, and 2) design curriculum “backward” from those ends.

UbD is based on seven key tenets:

  • UbD is a way of thinking purposefully about curricular planning, not a rigid program or prescriptive recipe.
  • A primary goal of UbD is developing and deepening student understanding: the ability to make meaning of learning via “big ideas” and transfer learning.
  • Understanding is revealed when students autonomously make sense of and transfer their learning through authentic performance. Six facets of understanding the capacity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self assess -serve as indicators of understanding.
  • Effective curriculum is planned “backward” from long-term desired results though a three-stage design process (Desired Results, Evidence, Learning Plan). This process helps to avoid the twin problems of “textbook coverage” and “activity-oriented” teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.
  • Teachers are coaches of understanding, not mere purveyors of content or activity. They focus on ensuring learning, not just teaching (and assuming that what was taught was learned); they always aim – and check – for successful meaning making and transfer by the learner.
  • Regular reviews of units and curriculum against design standards enhance curricular quality and effectiveness.
  • UbD reflects a continuous improvement approach to achievement. The results of our designs – student performance – inform needed adjustments in curriculum as well as instruction.

Defined Learning Reinforcement of UbD

Defined Learning reinforces these tenets and supports the Understanding by Design framework for curriculum, instruction and assessment. Through the utilization of performance tasks and related resources, Defined Learning reflects the educational strategies of STEM education and project-based learning. Real-world videos set the stage for each learning experience by showing the practical application of educational concepts within an industry and/or organizational context. Performance tasks built around the demands of specific careers/industries ask the students to apply knowledge and skills in authentic situations. Literacy tasks encourage students to read, synthesize and write informative and/or position papers around the real-world issues. Tasks set in an international context give learners opportunities to explore challenges and opportunities with global implications.

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