(Mis)Understanding by Design

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The country’s schools are now implementing ‘Understanding by Design (UbD) curriculum.’ Some private schools are implementing it at all levels while all the public schools are on its first year of implementation starting with first year high school subjects. I’m not a fan of UbD, especially in the way it is being implemented here but that is irrelevant. (If I have my way, I rather spend the money for Lesson Study.) But of course, I want UbD to work because DepEd is spending taxpayers money for it. But from conversations and interviews with teachers and looking at what they call call ‘Ubidized learning plans’, I am starting to doubt whether or not what we are implementing is really UbD. Here’s how UbD is understood and being carried out in some schools:

1. With UbD teachers will no longer make lesson plans. They will be provided with one. Here’s a comment on my post Curriculum Change and Understanding by Design: What are they solving? from a Canadian educator:

UbD may not be your priority–I gather that you see PCK and CK as the core issue. But at least UbD positions teachers as the decision-makers rather than imposing lessons on them…. I am not a UbD proponent, but I think it’s a structure I could work with, a structure I could infuse with my beliefs and goals, because it puts teachers at the center of the decision making, with student understanding as the target.

Indeed, nowhere in the UbD book of McTighe and Wiggins that they propose that teachers should no longer make lesson plans or that it is a good idea that somebody else should make lesson plans for the teachers. What they propose is a different way of designing or planning the lesson – the backward design.

2. UbD is a way of teaching.  It is NOT. UbD itself does not prescribe a particular way of teaching. The authors however have consolidated ideas for effective teaching for teachers to consider when preparing the lesson. UbD proposes a framework for designing instruction in three stages: Stage 1 is about identifying the enduring understanding and big ideas. It answers the question What are the important ideas students really need to know and understand in this topic/unit? Stage 2 is about  assessment of learning. The question that needs to be answered here is How will you know that the students know and understand what you want them to? Stage 3 is about the design of instruction: What will you do to help them learn what you want them to know and understand? It looks pretty harmless but whether this framework works for designing effective instruction or whether or not increase in achievement can be attributed to it or if its doable, nobody knows. Even the proponents themselves do not have a research to prove that it does.

3. Most of our teachers understands UbD in terms of Stage 3 only which,  from the prepared lesson plans I saw being distributed to the teacher is also in four stages: Explore, Firm-up, Deepen and Transfer. Most teachers go straight to Stage 3. Some of them who were given prepared learning plans said that they don’t read what’s written in Stages 1 and 2. Note that without going through or considering Stages 1 and 2, you are not using the UbD framework. UbD is UbD because of Stages 1 and 2.

4. The DepED’s Explore, Firm-Up, Deepen, and Transfer is being interpreted in different ways one of which is dividing a chapter into four parts. The first part corresponds to Explore, the second part to  corresponds to Firm-up, etc. A book being marketed says that the Explore part refers to giving a diagnostic assessment at the start of the lesson. Much as I would like to explain here what the DepEd mean by each of these, I couldn’t because I could not find any document or article from DepEd that explains it. So, if you have one, please share here.

Here’s I hope Explore, Firm-up, Deepen, and Transfer should be interpreted in mathematics teaching.

Explore – students are given an open-ended problem solving task and they are given opportunity to show different ways of solving it.

Firm-up – the teacher helps the students make connections by asking them to explain their solutions and reasoning, comment on other’s solutions, identify those solutions that uses the same concepts, same reasoning, etc.

Deepen – the teacher consolidates ideas and facilitates students construction of new concept or meaning, linking it to previously learned concepts; helps students to find new representations of ideas, etc.

Transfer – teacher challenges students to extend the problem given by changing aspects of the original problem or, construct similar problems and then begin to explore again.

The above descriptions corresponds to a way of teaching called teaching mathematics via problem solving. If DepEd will adopt this, please do not call it UbD but by its proper name.


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