Standard 1 Instructional Planning: Designs and monitors long and short-term plans for students’ academic success.
Standard 3 Curriculum: Provides knowledge and skills that bring academic subjects to life and are aligned with state content standards.
The course, Curriculum Design, taught me the importance of using curriculum as a guide to plan instruction that is aligned with state standards and focuses on what students need to know. Parkay, Hass, & Anctil (2010) define curriculum as “all of the educative experiences learners have in an educational program, the purpose of which is to achieve broad goals and related specific objectives that have been developed within a framework of theory and research, past and present professional practice, and the changing needs of society” (p. 3). Curriculum and instructional planning should be intertwined in order to determine what students need to know based on state content standards and how teachers will design and monitor long and short-term plans for students’ academic success.
Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) offers a backward way of thinking about curriculum that focuses on defining first what students need to know, rather than the activities and instructions that will be used. Design of assessment needs to take place first in order to clearly identify academic standards and the purpose for learning. This makes the learning evident for both the student and teachers. Teachers should first think about the evidence they will need to determine students’ learning. This can then guide the lesson planning and instruction. Teachers can apply backward design to any curriculum or learning standards and at any grade level. There are three stages of backward design which include: “identifying desired results, determining acceptable evidence, and planning learning experiences and instruction” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 18).
In backward design, the purpose is to teach to reach objectives, instead of teaching to cover content in a textbook. Teachers need to think first about what students need to know and second about the instruction and activities that will help students meet the objectives. This way the design of instruction becomes more purposeful and students have a clear understanding of what they need to know and why. An important component to implementing the backward design strategy is to differentiate between the words “understand” and “know.” If students are to understand a concept they must be able to provide evidence by demonstrating they know specific pieces of knowledge. Understanding is different from knowledge because it requires thinking beyond the facts. Wiggins & McTighe (2005) state, “To understand is to have done it in the right way, often reflected in being able to explain why a particular skill, approach, or body of knowledge is or is not appropriate in a particular situation” (p. 39). Unlike facts or skills learned through memorization or drill, understanding requires students to apply what they learned to different contexts. The goal then is for teachers to design instruction that focuses on applying what students learn to larger contexts so they can transfer their knowledge. Otherwise, students will likely learn topics in isolation through memorization without understanding their relation to other ideas or the purpose for learning the content.
When designing units using the curriculum, teachers should frame learning goals in the form of essential questions to help students make connections and apply new knowledge to broader contexts. Wiggins & McTighe (2005) state, “The design must explicitly focus on the big ideas that connect and bring meaning to all the discrete facts and skills” (p. 105). One way to approach the design of essential questions is to keep them open-ended. This allows for higher-level thinking and a level of inquiry. Students cannot simply respond with a yes or no and can’t just search for a single answer for the purpose of completing an assignment. Questions should be engaging and relevant to students. It’s also important that questions don’t just address a specific topic (topical) that fulfills the learning target for the lesson, but questions should also be general enough (overarching) so students can apply the standard across content areas (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). The goal in creating questions is to use them as a frame that helps guide the learning activities and inquiry. Both teachers and students can revisit the questions throughout the lesson to determine if their new learning has led them to answers. Questions can help keep the lesson focused on answering the goals of the unit. Creating overarching questions before the lesson provides direction for the teacher to ensure that learning activities are aligned with the goals of the unit. It also helps teachers avoid teaching for coverage because students are not just searching for definitive answers but applying their new knowledge to understand big ideas.
As teachers prepare to use curriculum effectively, they must think about the process as well as the content. This includes a focus on: goals and outcomes, instruction, and assessment (Costa & Kallick, 2010). Costa & Kallick (2010) describe a curriculum mind shift that needs to take place as teachers prepare students for a 21st century education. Teachers need to value knowledge acquisition as an outcome rather than knowledge production. Students should be constructing their own knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, and understanding multiple perspectives. The views of curriculum vary depending on the subjective and objective elements in which knowledge is constructed. There are different types of knowledge that should influence the curriculum taught in schools. These include personal/cultural, popular, mainstream academic, transformative academic, and school (Banks, 1996). Students should learn all types of knowledge so they are able to understand multiple perspectives and develop their own. If teachers understand different types of knowledge they can apply this knowledge in the classroom to help students see how the knowledge fits within a social context. Creating an empowering school culture where all teachers are approaching the curriculum with a critical eye and making modifications will allow students to see multiple perspectives. Since curriculums vary from school to school and do not always represent multiple cultural backgrounds, it is not enough to rely on simply delivering the content. It is important that teachers not only provide multiple perspectives but also allow students to engage in critical thinking activities so they can learn to make their own interpretations. These are skills that students can apply beyond the classroom. Students need to be prepared to make decisions so they can make positive contributions to our diverse society.
UBD Unit This artifact is an example of how I applied the Backward Design model to a 3rd grade math unit.
Banks, J.A. (1996). Transformative knowledge, curriculum reform, and action. In J.A. Banks (Ed.) Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, and action: Historical and contemporary perspectives (pp. 335-348). New York, NY: Teachers College Press (Chapter 18).
Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2010). It Takes Some Getting Used To: Rethinking Curriculum for the 21st Century. Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World (pp. 210-23). Alexandria: ASCD.
Parkay, F., Hass, G., & Anctil, E. (2010). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs (9th ed.). Pearson Education.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J., (2005) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.