Understand by Design

I became a teacher in 2007. Tried to be one at least. My first three years of teaching experience was filled with bitter memories because I struggled with the two areas: content delivery and classroom management. My literacy coach used to make time after school to plan lessons with me based on North Carolina Standard Course of Studies (“Common Core Standards”) throughout my first year and didn’t hesitate to come to my classroom to observe the students and provide feedback. That helped! Then after a year later, I confronted another wall as a teacher. How do I keep the students engaged for the 90 minute block and what did they actually learn after 90 minutes of class time?  That was when my literacy coach had left for another school but then again found another companion,  Wiggins & McTighe’s Understand by Design that taught me the joy of teaching. The authors helped me ask these questions prior to creating my lessons.

  • What’s the big picture?  35660138466cee8cbac6f3bf5030db10.jpg
  • What’s my lasting/essential question?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • What’s the activity to support the evidence?

The framework challenged me to stay away from “creating 5 finger Turkey for Thanksgiving activity” and start focusing on transferable ideas across content areas.  Based on the transferable ideas, I will have to create assessment that reflect the big idea, and then plan learning experiences.

The backward design is less of a fad in school districts than it was some years ago, but the idea has become a blueprint in new forms of instruction in today’s classes. For example, in the article “How This School Library Increased Student Use by 1,000 Percent”, Gonzales writes about how the educators got together and thought of different ways the library space can be used to increase student engagement. It started with an observation that their library space was not utilized appropriately. Kids weren’t really accessing the library because they weren’t particularly interested in reading books. So the teachers got together to do something about it and that was big picture that drove them to create a plan in place to allow the space to become flexible for all types of learners. Now this library has become a bustling center with students coming in for all types of learning experiences.

Now that I joined the district’s Instructional Planning Team for ELA and SS, I get to see how the district uses Understand by Design as a centralized system to drive teacher instruction. My role will be looking into differentiated instruction in Stage 3 and make sure that the materials are appropriately challenging for the high flyers; however, during the first meeting, I discovered another wall I will have to learn to climb. I seem to struggle in the following areas and I don’t know how I can move forward. Here are some questions I have:

  • What if Stage 1(Desired Result) and Stage 2(Evidence) do not address deeper questions that would drive Stage 3?
  • How can “activities” challenging without making it “harder”?
  • How do I help teachers understand that differentiated instruction is more than providing higher Lexiled text?
  • How will I make differentiated instruction embedded throughout Stage 1, 2, and 3?





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