Understanding by Design

Last week, I spent time planning a unit for my Fourth Grade students using Dee Fink’s 3 column table. This approach offered me the opportunity to work with selecting a main course goal and then tailor my learning outcomes, assessments, and activities to meet this goal. I feel as though this method of course design is very beneficial for planning out brand new units, perhaps when educators or program leads are beginning to make large changes in curriculum or starting a brand new program. It allows the planner to think in depth about what they are trying to achieve, and it allows them to align the components of the curriculum accordingly in a way that is clear and easily understood by all stakeholders.In this week’s reading of Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, I learned that Understanding by Design (UBD) is another tool that we can use to design curricular units that promote “deep and sophisticated understanding” in our students (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). I feel as though this particular tool is best for redesigning existing units to help students achieve a much more meaningful and lasting understanding of the content we are teaching. I believe that this particular tool is best utilized by teachers and other facilitators of learning within the classroom environment. It allows such individuals to think deeply about each component of the unit, and it provides a strong picture of the steps necessary to achieve the desired outcome of a unit.

After learning about both topics this week, I’ve learned that my current role as a STEAM specialist lends itself to using the 3 column table approach to course design. As it is the first year of my program, I am tasked with planning units for all grade levels (PreK-6). Fink’s 3-Column table allows me to focus on what I would like my students to learn at the end of each unit, and it also allows my administrators and coworkers to clearly understand what it is I intend to accomplish within my units. Finally, it provides parents with a clear, easy to read picture of what their children are accomplishing in my room. However, after my first year, I anticipate that I’ll want to begin looking more closely at student learning within the units. This is when my background in UBD will become most valuable. I fully expect to spend time next summer refining my units and using the UBD template to ensure that I’m providing my students with the opportunity to experience the deepest, most meaningful learning possible.

I also feel as though having a background in both design tools will facilitate the implementation of my Innovation plan by allowing me to focus on how both Blended Learning and the Makerspace are impacting student learning. One of the most interesting parts of the UBD book this week talked about the notion of the “twin sins of design” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). The authors refer to two common practices, activity-focused teaching and coverage-focused teaching, as “the twin sins”. Due to the nature of my Innovation plan, I think it could potentially be very easy to fall into the trap of these two practices; makerspaces are notoriously activity-focused, and blended learning can sometimes be misused to cover prescribed topics in a pre-determined sequence. My knowledge of both 3 column tables and the UBD process will enable me to stay focused on the most important component in any course design: student learning.

To review my course design using the UBD template, please see below. To open the document in a new tab, please click here. You can also click here to see how it compares to the same unit in Fink’s 3 column table.

Fink, L. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning.
         San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kumar, A. (2016). Understanding by design [PowerPoint slides]. 
         Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/ajaysuman/
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by design (2nd ed.). 
         Alexandria, VA: Asocciation for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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