Understanding by Design: “Yes, but…” and Afterword

Understanding by DesignThe final chapter of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design is a summary of the research presented in refutation of three common reasons educators give for why they do not implement UbD: 1) “We have to teach to the test”; 2) “We have too much content to cover”; and 3) “This work [backward design] is too hard and I just don’t have the time” (303, 309, 316).  I heard a few people chime in with that last one, especially.  While this last chapter may convince those who are still on the fence, I’m not sure it is wholly necessary for teachers who are already on board with UbD to read, unless they need to convince others, and I’m not sure those who are thoroughly unconvinced of the efficacy of UbD (and have remained so after reading up to this point) will become convinced.

To me, at least, the largest argument seems to be the last one, and Wiggins and McTighe suggest starting small.  Plan one unit using UbD.  Build UbD planning and peer review into professional development — give teachers the time — and you will find that over time, a large bank of unit plans exists.

In this last chapter and the Afterword, the authors suggest visiting their subscription site, UbD Exchange, and creating curriculum units for peer review.  Access to the site is not free, and indeed, is somewhat out of my personal price range, and probably that of my school (I will check).  I want to thank Grant Wiggins for his stated support of the UbD Educators’ wiki; he could easily have viewed our efforts at establishing a reading/peer review group as a threat, but instead he offered the group access to courses offered through his site Authentic Education, and even said he would build a link to the wiki on his site.  To me, that says what he truly cares about is helping teachers become better at their craft.  I really appreciated his gesture.  In case you didn’t see his supportive comment, it is reproduced here:

Great blog! And I really appreciate the time and thought that is going into your reading. Yes, ubd is not for those looking for a quick fix. Nor is it great to be lonely – I hated that as a teacher myself. But there is actually a lot you can do on your own to sustain the work. The key is to take small steps – try out a few ideas here and there; work on 1 unit a semester – especially a unit that now is so boring it bores you to teach it. Learn the various ‘moves’ but only use the ones that appeal. And, finally, avail yourselves of the various forums and resources we and others have put together to support the work. Go to bigideas.org for starters. Check out the ubdexchange. Go to the virtual symposium on ubd and differentiated instruction run through ascd. And write the poor authors, who rarely get this kind of lovely feedback!*

cheers, Grant

OK, I’m ready to start planning some units and getting some feedback.  This book might be the single most helpful professional development/education-related book I’ve ever read in terms of real strategies that will make me a better teacher.  I feel really excited about the opportunities before me as I begin planning for next year.

* Wiggins’ original comment did not include links; however, I found the sites he mentioned and built hyperlinks to them for the convenience of readers.

Work Cited: Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005.

[tags]Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, UbD, Understanding by Design, planning, backward design, curriculum, assessment, research[/tags]