# Understanding by Design and Pedagogical Content Knowledge

August 4, 2010 3 Comments

If you know where you are going, it doesn’t always follow that you also know how to get there. Understanding by Design (UbD) supports the first part of the statement: knowing where you are going. Its three-stage curriculum planning framework is useful as a general guide for identifying where to lead the students in terms of understanding what they are supposed to be learning.

In Stage 1: Desired Results, teachers think about what goals they would like their students to learn. They also jot down the “big ideas”, “essential questions”, and what students should know after the lesson.

In Stage 2: Assessment Evidence, teachers create and list performance tasks and other evidence to show that the students demonstrated the desired results.

In Stage 3: Planning Learning, specific learning experiences and instruction are listed. These experiences should hook the students’ interest, allow them to think about their understandings, and evaluate their work. Click here to go to the full article.

To be able to design an effective instruction that targets understanding, Stage 3 is too general to be of significant help to teachers struggling to improve their teaching. When planning a lesson, teachers are faced with these questions: What kind of activities can I give that will lead toward deeper understanding? How will I design these activities? How will I facilitate the processing of the result of the activities? What kind of representations of the concept can I use so that concepts are learned with understanding? How should I organize the lesson? What are my students previous understanding and experiences with these concepts? The answer to these questions requires a different form of knowledge from the teachers. No, not just knowledge of the content and certainly not just knowledge of general pedagogy. It requires what Shulman calls pedagogical content knowledge or PCK.

Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) is teachers’ knowledge of how a particular subject-matter is best taught and learned. It requires (1) knowledge of interpreting the content and the different ways of representing it to the learner, (2) knowledge of learners’ potential difficulties, misconceptions, and prior conceptions; and, (3) knowledge of a repertoire of content-specific teaching approaches and ways of arranging the lessons for better teaching.

Standards, Curriculum Frameworks, UbD, etc should equip the teachers with knowledge and skills where they should lead the students. PCK equip the teachers with knowledge how to get them there.

I’m not against UbD but I believe that teachers need more help with their CK and PCK. Shouldn’t our meager resources and teachers’ limited time and opportunity for professional development be used towards enhancing their content knowledge and PCK?

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