Understanding by Design

I have started trying to get all my Frederick Douglass ducks in a row by using the Understanding by Design “backwards design” process. I am using both the original book, by Wiggins & McTighe, and the accompanying UBD: Professional Development Workbook, by the same team.

It’s a long and complex process. I feel like I did back in my first classes in instructional design, when you had to go through the entire process step by step, and show your work on every page. I think it’s probably vital to do this, so that I can assimilate the process to the point that I can assist teachers when they begin having to think in the same terms.

I think that if I had not been working with these concepts for the past thirteen years, with the same names, Wiggins, McTighe, Marzano, Jacobs, Silver, Strong, then as now, I’d be very hard put to get this under my belt. I think what we as a community of educators in the state of Georgia are facing is a very tough adoption of a very tough innovation, and that unless the PTB have planned more and better training than I have yet to see evidence of, this innovation will fail. Support, support, and continuous support, or performance standards will not be accepted in any meaningful way by most teachers in this state.

A short digression to illustrate my point: As I work on integrating the social studies and language arts performance standards in my Douglass unit, I keep facing the fact that we have to come up with a great deal of basal-reader-style skill activities to go with our new reading selections. Not that it can’t be done, of course, but we’re used to workbooks already done for us. Here’s my illustration: given our reading curriculum now, i.e., weekly selection, worksheet, worksheet, worksheet, test, how do we expect instruction to change to support the revised GPS curriculum? To put it another way, what makes us think most teachers are going to alter their instruction in response to the new standards? Even more pointedly, what in our LEA makes us think that they are going to be encouraged to do so?

Back to my main point, or rather, my main puzzlement with the Understanding by Design process. It seems to me as I work through filling out the forms that most of this design process seems geared to designing instruction based on a single objective/standard, whereas we’ve already seen that we have a passel of performance standards to attach to this unit. Do we focus on a couple of main ones (which is what I’m doing at the moment), or do we attempt to go full-bore with all of them?

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