Monday, August 11, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 1

"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination." Gotta love Stephen Covey and those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Today was the first of a three day workshop, Understanding by Design, that our District is providing during the off time of our summer months. I walked to the top floor and into our Staff Development room with my laptop over my shoulder and received Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins Professional Development Workbook and a neatly organized three ring binder to boot. I was joined at my table by our new principal and fellow fifth grade teacher for the day and was honored to have the opportunity to work with both.

UbD (which is just a lot easier to type) is a unit model that uses content as a vehicle for higher order thinking, and according to Jay McTighe, "UbD is a way of thinking, not a program."

Basically, there is a three stage planning process that really is backward to much of my planning in the past.

Stage 1: Identify the Desired Results
Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence
Stage 3: Create a Learning Plan

Today's main focus was Stage 1, Identify Desired Results, and the workshop was setup in such a way to scaffold our thinking through these first few steps. Our group quickly chose Government as our topic and began our brainstorming session on what the Factual Knowledge and Discrete Skills were at a fifth grade level.

UbD's main premise seems to be enabling students to go deep deep in their thinking by the teachers developing Essential Questions and Understandings that guide the lessons of the content that can then be transferred among other disciplines. Examples of Essential Questions could be:
  • Why is it important to have rights?
  • How is an individual responsible to himself or herself and others?

Examples of Understanding could be:
  • Citizens have rights and responsibilities in a Democracy
  • Democracy provides for the opportunity to have have different perspectives
  • Democracy functions as an effective system when there is order

What I find fascinating with Essential Questions and Understanding like this is that they can be applied in so many settings and are simply not limited to the study of government. They can be applied to a classroom community, personal citizenship, any club or organization, church, or even on sports teams.

What led our group to identify these essential questions and understandings about our topic of government was a set of very specific questions that I have listed below.
  • Why study government? So what?
  • What makes the study of government universal?
  • If the unit on government is a story, what's the moral of the story?
  • What's the Big Idea implied in the skill or process of government?
  • What larger concepts, issue, or problem underlies government?
  • What couldn't we do if we didn't understand government?
  • How is government used and applied in the larger world?
  • What is a real-world insight about government?
  • What is the value of studying government?
Take a moment and look at the questions above as a way for you to gauge the lessons you are already teaching. Wherever you see the word government insert the particular concept you are teaching. These questions bring to light what it is we really want the children to be able to walk away with after a lesson or unit of study.

It's the meat and potatoes of the learning that touches the head and the heart.

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