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Promoting Alignment Through UbD and Backwards Design

Promoting Alignment Through UbD and Backwards Design

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson, you will consider the significance of instructional alignment and how UbD promotes this important planning skill.

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Welcome. I'm Trisha Fyfe. And today, I'm going to be exploring the topic, promoting alignment through Understanding by Design and backwards design throughout this video lesson. As we learn about this topic, we will work towards several learning objectives by answering the following questions. What is the Understanding by Design framework? How does Understanding by Design promote alignment of the standards? And what does Understanding by Design look like in a learning environment rich with technology?

Let's start with a reminder of what Understanding by Design is. The framework for Understanding by Design is based on a hierarchy of levels of knowledge that are ordered by most simple at the bottom to most complex at the top. The pyramid shape makes a good visual for understanding this hierarchy.

Starting from the bottom, explain, students grasp the ability to recall facts and data thoroughly. Next is the ability to interpret, where students begin to provide dimension. And subjects become relevant to the learner. It's here that students should be able to tell meaningful stories based on knowledge.

The third stage is apply. And it's in this stage that students begin to transfer learning to other contexts. At stage four, have perspective, students begin to see the bigger picture. And they can acknowledge other points of view. Stage five is empathize. And students here become more sensitive and perceptive to others' perspectives.

The last stage, and the most complex, is having self knowledge. And it's here that students know what they don't know. They truly understand the process of their learning.

To better see how this works, let me give you some examples. When students are asked to research and develop a brochure for a specific geographical area, for example the desert region, by giving specific examples of what they learn about the area, they are working in the explain domain. When students are asked to design, develop, and test, and maybe revise solutions to issues, such as homelessness in their community, they're working within the apply domain.

Going back to the idea of backward design and how this concept is used in Understanding by Design, let's talk about the three stages. In stage one of Understanding by Design, instructional goals including standards, objectives, essential questions, and key knowledge and skills, are developed. After the goals are developed, we start the process of stage two, which entails developing the assessments, both the performance assessment or authentic tasks that students are asked to complete to show their learning, and also a variety of formative assessments, like quizzes, observations, and group work.

The final stage of Understanding by Design is to plan the learning activities. When planning in a traditional format, the design is to plan the activities first, followed by the planning of the assessment for those learning activities.

So how does Understanding by Design promote alignment of the standards? Because we use backward designing throughout Understanding by Design, we're able to make solid connections in our instructional planning. According to Williams and McTighe in 2000 on page eight of their publication, one starts with the end, the desired results, or the goals and standards, and then derives the curriculum from the evidence of learning or performances called for by the standards and the teaching needed to equip students to perform.

When using traditional design, it's much harder to align the goals, instruction, and assessment. While the idea of teaching to the test has become somewhat controversial, it's important to teach the content that you are going to test. And testing should have come from the content taught. This way, there's close alignment. And students know what's expected of them. This can help motivate students. It also helps you as a teacher, in that your students will show mastery of the content.

There are many opportunities to bring technology into Understanding by Design learning environments. In a technology-rich learning environment, stage one of Understanding by Design, identifying the desired results, technology can be used to build plans and connect standards. There's a wealth of information and resources on the internet for teachers to use in this stage.

In stage two, determining acceptable evidence, teachers can use sites such as Google Forms, or Schoology, or Socrative, that record and track data more efficiently, and also help provide immediate feedback for you as the teacher and your students. This data and the feedback can assist you in making instructional decisions real time, and not waiting to go over all of the paperwork.

In stage three, planning of the learning activities, there's a number of technology tools and resources that can be used. Communication, collaboration, and the ability to create are evident here. And groups can use tools like Skype, YouTube, Google docs, blogs, and social media websites to create authentic products that can be produced and published for authentic audiences in creative, innovative ways, like wikis, blogs, Prezi and PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, and more. So many great things are happening in the Understanding by Design classroom. And there are so many opportunities to bring in technology components that will help our 21st century learners thrive.

So let's talk about what we learned today. We looked at the following questions. What is the Understanding by Design framework? How does Understanding by Design promote alignment of the standards? And what does Understanding by Design look like in a learning environment rich with technology?

Not only did I recap the three stages of Understanding by Design, but we also looked at the six facets of understanding in Understanding by Design, explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize, and have knowledge. Remember that pyramid I showed you. I gave you examples of what a learning activity might look like when thinking about these facets of understanding. And we also discussed the use of technology in Understanding by Design environments, and how overall this framework will assist you in aligning your standards, instruction, and assessment throughout your units.

Now that you're familiar with Understanding by Design and its benefits, let's reflect on these ideas. What are the benefits to using the Understanding by Design framework in your teaching? What are some things you can improve on to bring technology and Understanding by Design together in your classroom?

Thanks for joining me today in discussing the lesson, promoting alignment throughout Understanding by Design and backwards design. I hope you found value in this video lesson, and are able to apply these ideas and concepts to your own teaching. As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional research section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Notes on “Promoting Alignment through UbD and Backwards Design”


(00:00- 00:28) Introduction/Objectives

(00:29- 02:03) What is UbD?

(02:04- 02:53) UbD and Designing Backwards  

(02:54- 03:49) UbD and Alignment

(03:50- 05:15) UbD and Technology

(05:16- 06:05) Recap

(06:06- 06:55) Reflection 

Additional Resources

Teachers as Technology Trailblazers: Integrating Technology and UbD

In this blog post, Kristen Swanson shares a presentation and training materials that she used with a small group of teachers. In the presentation, she walks teachers through the three stages of UbD in a technology rich environment. Swanson includes images and activities to follow.

School District 25 Tech Facilitator: Technology Integration in Understanding by Design

This wiki includes presentations and resources on using UbD in a technology rich classroom. The Prezi on UbD is informative and easy to follow. Additionally, there are links to web resources to help you implement UbD with technological tools.