Understanding by Design

I finally get to use the word “understand!” So many times in my undergrad classes I was asked to create a lesson objective. I was never allowed to use the word “understand.” I now have learned it is acceptable to use the word “understand” as a learning outcome as long as I am able to differentiate between a student understanding or just knowing.

This class I am taking now is focusing on creating significant learning environments. It has opened my eyes to a variety of things. I have never purposely used a backward design model for developing learning outcomes and lesson plans. I don’t know why that is. It seems as though many others in my profession are very familiar with the concept. I was searching online for different Understanding by Design curricula and I was surprised at how many school districts actually used the template! Rather than deem myself a complete failure as a teacher, I will choose to chalk this up to a learning experience that will help me “fail forward” with my teaching techniques.

I am guilty of planning lessons or units around activities and coverage, the “twin sins” according to Wiggins and McTighe. I now see how much easier it is to plan backward! I will admit, creating my BHAG and 3 Column table just about did me in. The struggle was real. However, the Understanding by Design template made much more sense to me. I don’t know if that’s because I had already been exposed to backward design from the 3 Column Table. All I know is that not one tear was shed over the UbD template. In fact, I actually sort of enjoyed creating it! Truthfully, I don’t think I REALLY understand the 3 Column Table and how the different learning goals are set up (meaning which section which goal falls under). I know what they mean, but I am not certain I truly understand how to use them. With that being said, I do understand the 3 Column Tables that are available for the different courses I must take to earn my DLL Master’s Degree. I can make perfect sense of the 3 Column Table when I read it. I guess I just have a mental block when it comes to creating my own. Therefore, I think the UbD template would work better for me. I say this because of the detail involved. I like organization and the UbD seemed more organized and contained much more detail than the 3 Column Table.

I also think the UbD template will work better for me as I implement my innovation plan. Part of my innovation plan suggests that technology be taught in all the core classes rather than just in a stand-alone technology applications class. I believe more teachers that are fairly new to teaching technology concepts would appreciate the added detail included in the UbD template. In closing, I appreciate the exposure to both of these backward design methods, but I definitely see myself using the UbD template the most.

The part of the UbD template that I really like is the use of the letters-WHERETO. The acronym kept me on track when completing the Learning Plan section. W=Help the students know Where the unit is going, What is expected, and Where are students coming from (prior knowledge, experiences, interests). H=Hook and Hold their interest. E=Equip students, Experience key ideas, and Explore issues. R=Revise and Rethink. E2=Students Evaluate their work. T=Tailored or personalized. O=Organized.


Fink, L. D. (2005). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from: https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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