It’s time to consider backward design…your students already have.

Recently I attended a training on Understanding by Design (UbD). Otherwise known as Backward Design, this curriculum design methodology popularized by Jay McTighe and the late Grant Wiggins encourages the designer to plan with the end in mind, seeking clarity of purpose above all things. The intent is that by declaring purpose (“what will learners take away from this experience?”), assessment and activity design become much more focused, resulting in the abandonment of less important activities and content. Speaking personally, the practice of UbD, in conjunction with my work with educational consultant Greg Duncan and my colleagues in PLC, has transformed how I plan, how I teach, and how I communicate with students regarding their growth as language learners.

End of infomercial.

My writing today is prompted not by my belief in the effectiveness of backward design; rather, by a comment made by a colleague during today’s training. A Grade Chair and music teacher in the training said, “Kids walk into my class thinking with the end in mind all the time. They say ‘Why do we need to learn this anyway?'”

Why do we need to learn this anyway?

A teacher’s reaction to this question is most often rage, frustration, or anaphalaxis. It seems to us like the knee-jerk reaction of an ill-informed and petulant child. In reality, kids are asking themselves the very question that we should be asking: “why are we doing this in the first place?”

It can be a sobering moment when someone you previously considered “under your wing” is actually way ahead of you in the thought process. While kids aren’t really thinking about backward design when they ask the dreaded question, they are thinking economicallyHow will I benefit from the lesson you’re about to put me through?

Economist Thomas Sowell would put it like this: My time is a finite resource that has alternative uses. Why am I using it like this?

And while our first reaction may be to buck up and throw a flag (“Disrespectful remark…five yards, loss of down!”), we should instead join them in their thinking. Why am I teaching this lesson? How does it figure into the unit of instruction? What skills or capacities should kids expect to gain from this experience?

I’ve heard kids ask me “why do we need to learn this?” for years. But I wasn’t listening. I didn’t realize that they were asking the question that, until recent years, I never thought to ask myself.

That’s something I should think about.

Why are “bloopers” celebrated while “mistakes” are feared?

Near the end of every student video project is the bloopers real. It’s, by the look on their faces when the project ends and the bloopers begin, they’re favorite part of the project by far.

How strange that in a video project mistakes are captured and unnecessarily added to the end, while in 99% of school life mistakes are feared, avoided, hidden, covered over, judged, or even punished.

What can we do about that?

On jargon, professional language, and gazing upon the art of teaching

This is NOT a drawing of a horse

http://www.pablopicasso.org/images/paintings/guernica.jpg

It’s Pablo Picasso’s Guérnica, and there are countless conversations to be had in every square foot of this painting (the painting itself is 11 feet x 25 feet).  One would only describe Guérnica as a drawing of a horse if they chose, quite deliberately, to ignore the story, the intensity, the context, and the purpose behind Picasso’s craft and his process. Continue reading “On jargon, professional language, and gazing upon the art of teaching”

Just how hard is “integrated studies” anyway?

As Co-director of PLCs in the Junior High, I have the exciting privilege (and obligation) to participate in each of the school’s PLCs: English, Math/Science, History, and Language.  Thursday was my first opportunity to observe another PLC in this capacity, and my very first visit to the History PLC.  Within the first few minutes I experienced what I had assumed I would have to wait weeks for: a common thread. Continue reading “Just how hard is “integrated studies” anyway?”

In search of school-wide Essential Learnings/Questions

The purpose of this post is two-fold:

  1. see title–that pretty much explains it
  2. I hope to expand my learning network, so feel free to comment if you subscribe to this blog, but by all means SHARE THIS with your own network!  I’d love to meet the people that make my people so darn interesting.

Here’s the task:

Imagine that for some reason a school decided to eliminate content-specific departmental structures.  Rather than learning Art, Science, and Spanish, students learn a set of core skills and content that will prepare them for the next levels of learning, a life of citizenship, a successful career, and a life worthy of the investment of time living it.

What do you consider the essential learnings or essential questions that students would explore throughout their academic studies?

Whether you’re an educator, a parent, whether you work in public sector, private sector, or don’t work at all, I’d love to have your input.

Comment below, reply to others’ comments, challenge me and others, combine ideas.  Have fun.  I hope it’s not just me and the crickets…