The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Understanding as a “mental grasp, comprehension and the power to make experience intelligible by applying concepts and categories.”
In the Understanding by DesignⓇ Institute, Jay McTighe explains that in writing a UbDⓇ unit, we are focusing on understandings as concepts, themes, principles, and processes. They are transferable ideas, and we frame them with the sentence starter “Students will understand that…”
We know that when we ask individuals to shift their ideas and practices, it can be challenging. You’ll have willing participants and hand-raisers, and you will have those hesitant to change. However, the more our team knows about the shift we are asking them to make, the easier it may be.
So, let’s use the ideas and definitions about understandings, and apply them to how we can approach Understanding Understanding by DesignⓇ. We want curriculum writers and implementers to understand that:
In this article, we will focus on two of these understandings, and how they work together. Allowing your team to LEARN TOGETHER about Understanding by Design and then implement a curriculum design and writing process is something we believe will make a significant impact on your success.
Schools and districts take a variety of approaches to teaching Understanding by Design to their staff. One approach would be a book study with one or more of the books Jay McTighe has authored or co-authored about UbD. Another approach is for the curriculum leader to create a learning experience for the teachers about Understanding by Design, based on their knowledge and the philosophy and goals of the organization.
What if you could combine elements of each of these to create an unparalleled learning opportunity for your team? You can when you effectively utilize the Understanding by Design professional learning institute. This Institute allows schools and districts to provide a collaborative and guided process for learning about UbD as a whole while gaining an in-depth understanding of each of the stages.
The Institute is broken into nine courses, or Learning Paths, with the first six exploring the key ideas of UbD and guiding the development of UbD units. These are suited for educators who are new to this design process or ones needing a review of UbD. The three Learning Paths that follow focus on the review and refinement of previously developed curricular units.
The UbD Institute is designed as an asynchronous learning experience. Individual educators can view the Learning Paths on their own, 24/7. However, we find that most organizations employ a hybrid approach combining asynchronous and in-person (or live virtual) experiences.
This allows their team to move through the content at a similar pace, have live discussions about the content, and apply their learning by designing and sharing curriculum units. It also ensures that the team has the same understanding of the philosophy, principles, and practices of UbD.
Helen Keller is quoted as saying “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” We believe the same goes for learning about effective curriculum design. Bringing your team, or a subset of your team together to learn about Understanding by Design before and during the curriculum writing process will not only enhance their learning, it will have a positive impact on their writing, designing, reviewing, and refining.
As an organization, you can create PLCs or cohorts within the Eduplanet21 platform, so teams can complete the learning together. As illustrated in figure 1, successful implementations have included starting the professional learning and curriculum development process with a group of administrative and teacher leaders who become your curriculum champions.
This group becomes “Cohort 1.” Perhaps 3, 6, or even 12 months later you add a second cohort. This group is your early adopters. They participate in the Institute as “Cohort 2” and members of Cohort 1 provide feedback and guidance. Cohort 1 begins drafting their UbD units, building their experience by the time Cohort 2 is ready to begin. Depending on the size of your professional staff, this process or cycle is repeated one or more times.
With the UbD Institute, participants will gain competence and confidence in designing high-quality curricular units. And, when combined with Eduplanet21’s Unit Planner, your team can learn and develop the UbD curriculum on a single, unified platform.
Think of the Institute as your “Google Maps” of backwards design curriculum writing, with completed units as a destination. You may choose different routes to the destination than other schools, but the foundational knowledge needed to get there is the same.