For my current graduate studies, I was given an opportunity to study with UbD founder, Jay McTigh. At the end we had to write a reflection, here is that reflection:
My early experiences in backwards planning came with the IB MYP, and to this day it has a strong influence on how I plan units, including how I use the UbD unit template. The previous MYP asked teachers to use a significant concept and even now this is how I conceptualize a long term transfer goal. Furthermore, I have formally and informally come across the constructivist model of education which proposes that students construct their own knowledge through interaction with learning material, activities, and socialization. While I wouldn’t say I am a hard constructivist I find the theory strong and use it as an underpinning of how I think about teaching. UbD also has a level of constructivism in it, I believe.
My road down UbD follows a predictable path. From the start it is exciting and appears straightforward. Then, over time I question how I am interpreting the different parts and start to wonder if I really know what I am doing. As I get more specific information, I need to re-evaluate how I understand the system; this often takes a lot of close study and contemplation. Currently, I feel that I have the necessary foundational knowledge and will be able to build upon that.
Some past experiences have both helped and complicated the matter. Professor Tran’s class (Theories in Curriculum Design) was the first time I worked specifically with the UbD template 2.0. One of the changes in understanding I went through is the use of subject specific understanding, knowledge, and skills in Stage One. Also, in Professor Kuhn’s class (Assessment Practices) I learned new ways to construct assessment. However, up until this point I haven’t had the chance to really incorporate them into my unit plans, although they do have a place in my classroom practices already.
Which takes me to the present moment. Since I had some experience with UbD and some related theories, the broad strokes we addressed were easy enough to comprehend. However, as we delved more deeply into the nuance of the course, the more explicit evidence and theories, as well as anecdotes and supporting evidence, things got a little overwhelming. It was a lot of information to process and once again, when going through Stage One I questioned myself at every decision and tried to reference back and forth between handouts and the books. Fortunately, I received a lot of help, particularly from the graphic organisers found in the book and the UbD handout. Many pages in my book are dog-eared and passages highlighted for future reference because I am certain I will need to return to them. Of specific interest to me is the section on the different facets of understanding. I have to teach TOK this year and I am looking forward to designing a graphic organiser in this format for myself and students based on TOK required principles. Also, I will use the original UbD model to plan my units.
Working with others was very helpful for three reasons. First, just the opportunity to talk about teaching, both in my subject matter and across subjects. There are always good ideas that come about from these experiences. A week to do all of this was also a lot more useful than a weekend, which is the normal IB experience. Secondly, because it gave me some confirmation about being on the correct track with how I was proceeding. I could see my understandings about the UbD template were similar to those of my classmates. Finally, I benefited from the unit review because we all have different ways to conceptualise and manifest our ideas. Having a more logical and detail-oriented classmates review my unit gave me his perspective and allowed me to think about my planning in different ways.
I wouldn’t say I am an expert, or even very good at UbD just yet, but I do feel that I am closer to understanding than before. I will continue to use my unit planning approach of brainstorming what could be possible of a unit and then use the template to organise my thoughts and focus the unit in the correct way. To these ends the curriculum map is also very beneficial because it gives me to the opportunity to see what is happening in other units and better focus my units for a balanced, learning experience. In the future I hope I can use curriculum mapping to do the same with colleagues and provide students with an overall, well rounded experience in the plastic arts.
As mentioned above, the assessment class I took, helped me think about assessment in new ways, and while reading the texts for that course and this one, I have multiple margin notes about how to incorporate the theories. One of the ways I am presently contemplating it is to check Stage Two performance tasks and assessment for better alignment to Stage One. This would also go for Stage Three as I have a new-ish understanding about formative assessment, specifically as how it relates to the visual arts classroom.
Well, the business still hurts my brain a little bit, but in the good way. Getting all the parts that I want into a unit takes some mental effort and I’d like to elaborate a little on one such aspect. From the time I began teaching in international schools, teaching visual arts had almost everything to do with the concepts and the thought process. After ten years abroad, I returned to the United Sates and found that teaching techniques was how many teachers were going about units and classroom practices. Initially a little apprehensive about this I came around some, particularly as I learned students appreciate the opportunity to learn skills. This is not to say I don’t find the concept approach valuable; I have been making sincere efforts to combine the two in a way that provides students with a fuller image of studying visual arts (pun intended.). The way I have been conceptualizing this is to treat skills and techniques as an engage and persist long term transfer goal. If we consider that to learn a new skill requires practice, metacognition, and discovery, then the long term transfer goal would be related to engage and persist. In the visual arts classroom, we can study that goal through painting or drawing or ceramic techniques. There is also potential for long term transfer goals in social and emotional learning, but I will save that for another time.
For sure this has been a good class and I am happy for the mental games I get to play with myself and others about using the UbD template and concepts.