Understanding by Design: Enduring understanding

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To know the big picture ideas, to know the enduring understanding the learners are suppose to acquire are indeed very important in planning and implementing a lesson. However, for teachers to be able to identify and articulate the enduring understanding for a particular content topic requires knowledge of the following:

  1. knowledge of the nature of the discipline;
  2. a deep content knowledge;
  3. knowledge of the connections among the different content topics
  4. some knowledge about the connection of your discipline with other discipline or subject area;
  5. knowledge of the relevance of your discipline to real-life

All these should already be partly articulated and reflected in the standards or curriculum framework to serve as guide to teachers when they design their lesson plans. If the curriculum framework is just a list of topics or some general statements like the one page I saw for Science 1 then that’s bad news. You got to start from zero and do it on your own.

One can argue of course that teachers are expected to already know all these (the 5 items I listed above) and hence know the enduring understanding in their discipline. But the reality in this part of the world is that majority of our teachers still need more help in these aspects. This is my reason why we got to have a curriculum framework or Standards that supports the demands of articulating the enduring understanding before asking teachers to plan their “ubdized” (got this term from one reader of this blog) lesson.

Textbooks, which market themselves as “UbD-based”, or “UbD-compliant” should also be required to state the big ideas for the entire course and for each chapter or unit. Statements of enduring understanding and essential questions can also precede each unit. Teachers can just add their own or state it in their own way when they make the lesson plans. It is not spoon-feeding the teachers. We just want them to have something to start with especially if the textbooks are their only resource. Textbooks authors are supposed to have a clear big picture idea of what they are trying to teach in their books and so why not require them to put it in the textbooks. They have no business writing one if they don’t know the enduring understanding that students are supposed to learn. With all these in place, teachers will have more time to plan and design the lessons targeting these big picture ideas. They will also have more time to study their students’ difficulties and misconceptions about the topic and think of ways of addressing them. Most importantly, teachers will have more time to study the topic they are going to teach and how this content topic relates with previously learned concepts and future concept so they can find the right activity/ task and use appropriate assessment process. These are what can make or unmake a lesson, not whether or not the teachers use the backward or forward design in lesson planning.

This is my fifth post about this topic. Click here to link you to my other posts on UbD and backward design.

PS1. Having identified the enduring/essential understanding does not guarantee you’re going to have a good lesson plan or a good lesson implementation.

PS2. In one of the centennial lectures, part of the activities of the University of the Philippines centennial celebration, the speaker for education-related issues said that no one in this country is paying attention to learning. Indeed. We talk about lesson planning, we talk about curriculum frameworks and syllabus, we talk about multiple intelligences, …. we talk about essential understanding … we talk about everything except how pupils learn specific content topics.

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