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How to Use Understanding by Design (UbD) in Classroom Teaching

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Learn about how you can teach in the classroom using Understanding by Design or UbD.

Understanding by Design or UbD has been implemented by the Philippines Department of Education (DepEd) as its curriculum in place of the RBEC or Revised Basic Education Curriculum. Understanding by Design or UbD is a foreign framework and may seem daunting at first, but once you realize what potentials it has in making understanding and learning more long-lasting—and therefore effective—applying the framework to classroom setting will be easier. The key is simply by putting your lesson plans in the greater perspective of the curriculum's Big Ideas.

Here are some ways you can start designing your classes for understanding:

  • Be the keeper of the Big Idea. The Big Ideas are the main goals and objectives not just of the curriculum but of all lessons set forth. In order to keep lessons anchored on the Big Ideas, some of the content from textbooks or previous curriculum will have to be sacrificed. Every choice you make for classroom teaching should bring out the Big Idea into focus.
  • Be understood, not just heard. UbD puts a premier on understanding over knowledge. For Wiggins and McTighe, textbook-based instruction focuses too much on quantity of facts and knowledge taught—sacrificing understanding and learning in the process. Quality in teaching means that the Big Idea of the curriculum and the essential questions are addressed and discussed. These will be useful and remembered by students far into their adult lives.
  • Be a detective. Assessment is so crucial in UbD. It goes before the design of classroom instruction in the backward design template. This is because assessment will serve as your evidence that the goals set have been achieved. Three things are needed to make your evidence credible. One, assessment must involve a performance task that will show understanding. Two, assessment must include other tasks (quizzes, homework, objective exams) as supporting evidence. Three, a rubric must be in place for every performance or complex task. You can use UbD's six facets of learning as guide.
  • Be authentic. UbD puts emphasis on understanding and not simply knowledge recall. The best way to put understanding to the test is through authentic assessment. Assessment for understanding involves practical and real-world situations that demand application and analysis. There is always a context and the answers or solutions cannot easily be reached through simple recall. Authenticity also demands being genuine and honest in scoring and feedback-giving.
  • Be blatant. That's right, be straightforward to your students. In UbD, there is no place for hidden agendas. Students must know what the goals and objectives are of each lesson, for these will guide their classroom experience. Knowing the purpose of the lessons will give them capacity for insight into every topic you present. It will also help them tie together facts, data, understandings and ideas in one greater picture: the Big Idea.
  • Be enduring. As a teacher, you want to have essential and enduring influence. So make sure to teach enduring understandings and to ask essential questions. An enduring understanding is insight about the Big Idea, and it is your task to make students uncover and realize this insight through the lesson. Enduring understandings need to be stated explicitly. Wiggins and McTighe give this as example: History is the story told by the winners. While dates and places will escape your students' brains, such an enduring understanding will change their viewpoint or make a mark.
  • Be essential. If you rely solely on textbook or knowledge, you won't be essential because students can easily access information through books and the Internet. Thus, you have to ask questions whose answers cannot easily be pinpointed. Essential questions ask not for facts but for understandings of a topic. While the specifics of a subject such as names, labels and numbers change, the essential questions will not be invalidated. An example of an essential question from the UbD authors: Does a good read differ from a great book?
  • Be engaging and effective. A well-drafted curriculum through UbD and a corresponding lesson plan guided by such a curriculum are well and good. But the success of these still rely heavily on the choices a teacher makes in the classroom. Even the most notable of Big Ideas and essential questions will be overshadowed by a poorly matched lesson and activity. While fun is definitely a factor in keeping a class engaged, classroom choices must be the best choices for a lesson to be effective. The WHERETO questions will guide you in matching goals with activities.
  • Be flexible. While the UbD uses the backward design, this does not mean that the stages should be determined in that order. The misconception is that the template provided by the authors is to be filled out in order. On the contrary, the authors encourage research, discussion and exchange that will bring out elements and ideas for each of the three stages. This flexibility means choices in the three stages will not be limited. What is important is that all the elements of the three stages in the template make a cohesive and unified unit.


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Christine Gapuz

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