UbD stands for “Units by Design” which is a method of designing instruction so that it is focus on the desired learning. In my humble opinion it really is nothing more than a remix of the “Outcome based education” design of the 1980′s. Don’t misunderstand my opinion; I am not against this type of designing instruction at all. I do think there are some cautions however, especially when instructing in the arts.
If you have read any of my other posts, you would know that I often use analogies to get my point across and I can think of no better way this time either.
Let’s say we want to take a trip to Disneyland in L.A. (our targeted learning). The most efficient and fastest way to get there is by jet plane. We could go there , experience Disneyland and fly back fairly quickly and could have taken in the whole experience quite nicely. In contrast, we could also take a car trip to California and still get the same experience at Disneyland once we got there. The difference would be the rich experiences along the way. How fun and exciting – and yes, educational – to see the deserts and forests and national parks along the way.
One administrator likened this UbD and targeted learning, to giving students the GPS to their learning so they aren’t wandering around wasting time being lost before they actually get where they are going. I do believe that it a good and valid analogy. If I am walking “wandering Willie” to school each day and he is eternally wanting to take a different route and stop and explore every single bug along the journey, we would be late every single day to school. That just isn’t efficient nor practical. In contrast, if I drive “laser-focused Laura” to school each day along the same route, she will certainly get there on time but what would she have missed along the way by not experiencing at least different routes once in a while. What else would she learn and experience if we at least rode our bikes once in a while. Sure, it wouldn’t be the fastest and most efficient way to get to school but think what else she might enjoy and learn. Do you suppose she might notice a garden as we pass or how the clouds are forming? Maybe the people we pass by might be familiar and wave and smile.
All I am really saying it this: The teacher DOES need to have a target and know where they want to end up. Sometimes the teacher even has to spell it out so that “wandering Willie” will actually get there on time, BUT….take time to “smell the roses”. There is beauty all around and fun in learning. Some of those activities may not be the most efficient routes to learning a concept but the learning will most certainly be broader and more enjoyable if you take time to design instruction to include discovery and fun. In may not always be best to tell the student up front where they are going to end up. There is excitement and fun in surprise. There is a time and place for laser-learning and there is also a time and place for experience and discovery and beauty and joy. A good teacher should provide both.
I haven’t blogged for quite a while and for good reason. Due to budget cuts, my teaching position was changed and I now find myself teaching at 2 new schools. One new school would have been a stretch but having 2 new ones and 600 students to learn, 6 grade levels to teach and 2 separate staff names to learn and 2 classrooms to set up has been a bit overwhelming, to say the least. Now that I am starting to get my feet on the ground a bit, I hope to find time to blog again, now and then.
It is a little bit like moving to a new country. You might move there being able to speak the language enough to get around but that doesn’t make you a native. There are different customs, traditions, taboos, and celebrations to learn. You will most undoubtedly stick out for a while as the foreigner. Depending on the hospitality and friendliness of those around you, it may take a long time or a short time to feel comfortable and as though you are starting to fit in.
My advice from this experience: If you are a staff member; go out of your way to put the welcome mat out….not just in the beginning but until the a new member at your school begins to fit in. Check in with them to see if they need clarification on things, or explanation on things. Don’t assume that just because they “know the language” (know how to teach their subject area) they they know how YOUR school does things. Be open to change. Maybe the customary way the previous teacher did things was fine but it doesn’t mean that is the only way to do things. Maybe the new person has some fresh suggestions for your staff, climate and routines. If you are an administrator, evaluate how you integrate a new member on your staff. Think of ways to include them beyond introducing them at a staff meeting and placing them on the duty schedule.
Modeling how to be a good ambassador for our students can begin with ourselves.
The state of Colorado has adopted new content standards and have now been in the process of getting the word out to districts how they are different from the old standards….and they are vastly different. The old standards for all content areas read more like a check-off list or for my purpose in this blog, a recipe. I am assuming that other state’s standards are similar. The new ones are written with much more freedom in mind for the delivery of the subject/content and how teachers and administrators react to them will tell whether or not they want their teachers tto be cooks or chefs.
One can be a good cook. I have met several good cooks and enjoyed their food, but what is the difference between a cook and a chef? A cook merely, follows the recipe. A cook merely replicates the creativity of another person. The food may turn out delicious. This is the premise that chain restaurants are built on. The problem is that after a while the diner gets weary of eating the same things on the menu all the time. A chef on the other hand is always creating new and delicious and exciting food. The diner may not like the taste of everything served but would know probably still return to eat again at the establishment because next time it will be different and with that is the ever possibility that it will be delicious again. Are you seeing any correlation to the diners and our students?
Teachers have relied on the ever present teacher’s manual’s for teaching their content. They are asked to draw up pacing guides and curriculum maps. District’s purchase text books and materials from supposedly reputable and reliable education companies that tout they have the research to back up that theirs is the answer to educating our students – the perfect recipe. The new way the Colorado standards are written does not give you the recipe any more. It is a little bit like the cooking contest shows on the food network. The “chef” is given ingredients and told to make something wonderful from it. Sometimes it is great and sometimes it isn’t. Rarely, could it even be duplicated exactly twice.
And what about the quality of ingredients? How does that impact the final culinary delight? If the milk is sour, you wouldn’t put it in the recipe just because it called for it. You would need to find a substitution or change the recipe in some way to compensate. Isn’t that what good teachers do for kids? All students don’t come to class with the same “expiration date” either. Good teaching compensates for that and makes adjustments.
If the end product I am aiming for is a peanut butter sandwich, I can either follow the recipe or test my culinary skills by experimenting with it. Try sliced bananas on the sandwich, use different breads, try almond butter instead of peanut butter, etc.
We have relied on a prescribed recipe for learning far too long. The industrial age of “cookie cutter” education is over and we need to embrace new frontiers in education. I for one am grateful that the new standards afford the luxury of using creativity in instruction. I love that it isn’t just an ingredients list for a recipe for success. I also realize this makes some teachers and administrators nervous because there is risk in trying new things and not having the safety net of the “check off list” of facts covered. Will every dish be wonderful? Will every child succeed? No, but practice does make perfect. Teachers will learn to trust their own adjustments in instruction if they keep the end goal in mind and not just the short-term check off list chore. And….they will get better at it. By not having to be tied to a teacher’s manual or pacing guide, they will regain and develop their skills of taking their cue from the students. Just as a chef tastes his concoction along that way and adjusts, so will teachers be able to figure out what works best for students. I hope all districts and administrators will allow them to deviate from the old “recipes”s for learning so that the end result can be a wonderful culinary delight and a unique and one of a kind masterpiece that may or may not be able to be replicated again, and not just the same old, albeit somewhat tasty but boring dish on the menu.
I have a favorite song that I like to teach the little ones in my music class called “It Takes A Whole Village” and the words continue to say, “to raise a good child”. Of course we have heard this phrase many times and I don’t doubt that people believe it but I had an experience last week that brought to the forefront of my thinking taking this further than just the surface meaning of the phrase and applying it specifically to education.
Last week I had the honor of being invited to a retreat to discuss the future of CIAE (Center for Arts Integration) sponsored in part by UNC and the Colorado Council on Creative Industries and the Colorado Department of Education. The purpose of the retreat was a discussion around how the CIAE can have the most impact on arts education and integration and support schools in doing this. It was one of the most stimulating conversations ever.
The topic of the role the arts play in education has been debated continuously in many districts, usually around the sub-topic of budget. The hidden agenda with those discussions is really about the worth and purpose arts play in educating students and the value of the content of the arts. What usually takes place is a stand-off between arts educators who purport teaching arts for arts’ sake and the general education educators who don’t see the value of that (or at least give it a much lower priority than other content areas). Even the educators who love and value the arts sometimes minimize the value of the arts to merely being a vehicle to learn something else. Many well meaning colleagues have tried to support arts education on the shallow basis of the research that shows kids who take music classes do better in math or score higher on ACT and SAT tests.
In our state there is a huge “buzz” about the new content standards and the attitude of being overwhelmed with all that teachers are required to cover coupled with the pressure to “close the achievement gap” – a phrase that makes my skin crawl because of the interpretation of high stakes testing as a valid and accurate measure of achievement, but that is another blog. Anyway, it became apparent the the key to teaching and learning really is about the integration. Hello?? Is that a news flash? It shouldn’t be but even to me it was because I was looking at it in greater depth.
Our school has been working toward arts integration as a focus for 3 years and we are still pretty stuck in what activity could use music to help kids understand a math concept or what painting could be used to help kids write a story. This is pretty surface, shallow stuff. It IS integration but really at it’s lowest form. The power of arts integration into the general education contents comes from knowing the standards of both content areas. Only then will any singular lesson or activity really benefit the learning in both contents. Teaching content/subjects in isolation is not going to move students forward. Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing more of the same thing and expecting different results is something that we should pay attention to. Things like 90 minute literacy blocks at the same time every day are things that earn a second look. The power isn’t the 90 minutes vs. any other time allotment. The power might be in just not being interrupted or having students pulled out for this or that. Somehow, the causing factor of success gets blurred. Another obvious flaw in thinking might be segregating subjects. Such and such is “math” time, and such and such is Social Studies time, etc. Why? My thoughts are, just for the organizational benefit of tracking what materials are getting covered. Can’t Social studies also spill into the literacy time? Can Math blend into the science time? All of what is at the root of these routines are pretty much based in the obsolete industrial model of education.
Curriculum maps, pacing guides, unit structures are all some other organizational tools that maybe should deserve a second look at their value. If we are really meaning to differentiate our teaching for students then why should the pace of what and when we teach be based on some calendar or schedule? Students learn at the pace that is natural to them. We should be paying more attention to that and less to whether or not we always do the fraction unit in February or the poetry unit in November.
I know some of this thinking is radical. If we were to first and foremost let go of existing structures that may have possibly outgrown their use, then, and only then will we be able to move forward and begin to blend learning and knowledge together so that students can become all they can be. This most certainly includes the arts but why stop there?
Robert Frost is famous for poetry and one of his most famous is, of course, “The Road Not Taken”. The beauty of any poetry is that there are times in a person’s life when little phrases from the poetry pop into your mind. They give you wisdom at time when you need it, patience, hope, encouragement and many other things.
Many times in my life a phrase like ” Patience is a virtue for which we should all strive” (Job) pops into my head or “Me thinks he doth protest too much” (Shakespeare) or “and that has made all the difference” from Robert Frost’s “A Road Not Taken”.
Education in our national society is undergoing huge changes and stress. (No big headlines there!) There is a real dichotomy between what people think should be taught and what people think is being taught.
We are at a crossroads I think and need to decide which road to take. Do we go down the road of “back to basics” and focus on test scores as measures of “achievement” and then pat ourselves on the back when students score well but really are not ready to be productive and happy, well-rounded and educated members of the adult society or do we resist the monetary “carrots” of basing student achievement on test scores and look at students as people and in need of learning how to be communicators, collaborators, critical thinkers, creative and happy and productive members of society as they grown into adulthood?
A study reported in the front page of the paper today said that arts education has declined steadily starting in the early 1970′s when the “back to basics” movement in education began. The result has been a decline in adult appreciation for the arts and for continued support of arts education, particularly in minority groups. Did we really need to pay for a study to confirm this piece of “duh”? On the other hand, since there are people driving education that are afraid to sneeze unless there is some study or report out that shows the data, it maybe it would be worth it if it had the impact of waking up the educational systems to the realization that arts education is a dire need. It may be harder to measure it’s worth or impact, especially when only looking at short term data, but that most definitely does not diminish it’s worth, need and impact on students.
We need to educate the whole student. They are not little robots that schools need to just input data into and have them spit out the correct answers when the test calls for it. In my heart I don’t think the educators I know think that either but somehow the system is forcing educators to teach that way.
Which road will you take? ….It will make all the difference – in a child’s life!
I said give IT up not give up! What is “it”?
“It” is CONTROL.
I have an awesome student teacher right now and this morning we had a very stimulating discussion about the philosophy of education. Now I remember back when I was in my college ed classes and preparing for going out into the field, one of the things everyone tells you is that when you go for interviews they will ask you about your philosophy of education. Well, the reality is that I didn’t always get asked that but occasionally a principal would ask. I couldn’t even tell you today what I answered but I am sure it was much different than if I were asked today.
The number one thing affecting student learning is this: Students have to own their own learning. It is not about teacher centered classrooms. It is about helping students discover and uncover. I know I have written about this before but it really is the key!
The teacher is not the “giver of all knowledge” and students are obviously not always grateful for all the wonderful knowledge we can impart!
It isn’t a hard thing to do either. Mostly, it’s about how you phrase things. “Why did you think that?” “How did you find that?” “Tell me why?” “What do you see that you wonder about ?” or “What don’t you understand?”
This week I video taped a student teacher in another classroom for her capstone project. This lady has a PhD in chemical engineering and is going back to school to become a 2nd grade teacher! Good for her, first of all, but what I observed confirmed two things: 1) Age has nothing to do with being ready to teach or not ( I have had student teachers much younger who were better at “reading” a student’s engagement) and 2) The degree of education doesn’t ensure good teaching either.
The lesson plan for the class was very detailed and sequential and all the other things I am sure a supervisor would be looking for. The problem was the delivery and attitude. After only 8-10 minutes she had talked non-stop to the point the students’ eyes were glazed over and most had tuned out. I would say 80% of what she was saying was restating directions over and over again. Out of the hour long lesson the students were only actively doing anything for less than 10 minutes. How much do you suppose they learned or remembered?
So, GIVE IT UP! Give up the control, give up the idea that you, the teacher, have all the knowledge. You don’t know everything and guess what? The students will be fine with that. Give students a gift. Even for adults, it is much more fun to unwrap the gift, letting the anticipation build with each layer of wrapping paper, tape and packing peanuts. Let students open the gift of knowledge themselves. Don’t be the teacher that just hands them the gift already unwrapped and out of the box.
I was reading a blog just this morning about the “whole child” and it brought to mind what has been nagging me in the back of my mind during many of the recent meetings and professional development sessions I have attended. The sessions and meetings I attend that happen to be about music and the arts have the students at the center of the discussion for the most part. The talk is not so much about the curriculum, the test scores or the dreaded phrase – student achievement. The conversation is usually about what is good for kids. How can a child be successful? What do kids want to do and learn? What will the child remember later in adult life? How will the child learn this or that?
On the opposite end are the meetings and PDs I have lately attended that have to do with : How do we get kids to a higher level on the test? How can I (emphasis on the teacher “I”) get Johnny or Suzie to perform better? What are the new curriculum materials and how do I use them? When can I get more training on this or that?
The difference is subtle until you notice it and then it is obvious everywhere in education. The truth is, education has become not about the kids anymore, it is about adults and the performance and accountability of them.
What is our purpose as educators? I think we have lost sight of it. My purpose is to help children to grow up to become happy, successful and productive members of society. If they have a deficit in a particular area, then I think education should help them find coping skills for it. What if students graded themselves? What if conferences were student led? What if students were the ones to tell you what they needed and how you could help them?
It might be a bigger paradigm shift than people think to put students at the center of education. Just a thought…..
I recently read a blog post from Sabrina Stevens Shupe, an education advocate and former Denver teacher. This is an excerpt from her blog:
“One main reason I stopped believing in the dominant narrative about school reform is because I experienced firsthand how top-down policy churn impacts teachers’ ability to focus on our actual work. When people who are too far removed from the classroom attempt to control what’s happening there, problems arise. Standardization becomes virtually irresistible, because it makes it so much easier to perform “quality control” (which then ends up being more about conformity than actual quality). And of course, there has to be some way of tracking what’s going on, so documenting and reporting on your work becomes an urgent responsibility. This documentation has to be friendly to the non-educators who increasingly run schools, too, which means it will most likely be reductive in nature.
That, of course, has the unfortunate consequence of turning principals and district personnel into paper pushers, teachers into paper generators, and students into numbers (the flip-side of what politicians call “accountability”). For example, there were several days last year where virtually all of the teachers in our school had to hire substitutes to cover our classes while we worked elsewhere in the building, administering tests and finishing forms in order to meet district and state reporting deadlines. While there are some great substitutes out there, for the most part, sub days are days lost to instruction. It’s simply not the same to have a stranger step in and attempt to pick up where you left off with your students. (And it doesn’t help the substitutes any when bored, stressed out, over-tested kids look at them and think “PLAYTIME!”)
It’s bad enough that teachers often have to take this kind of work home in order to have time to complete it and plan good lessons– that depletes our energy, which makes us less alert and able to respond to children’s learning needs during the school day. But when these requirements (along with the time lost to testing) literally steal instructional time, it becomes all the more important for us to stop and examine if what has been sacrificed is worth what’s been gained.”
This really resonated with me because just yesterday I had a conversation with our ESL teacher and a third grade teacher about a student we all share. The problem was that this little girl was going to be pulled from my music class to get her ELA required instruction time. This was the only time the ELA teacher could take her since she is only here 3 half days a week. Unfortunately, for the little girl, the federal requirements are for her to have support 5 days a week with English Language instruction so already she is being shorted her support. I asked if it were possible for her to come to music with another third grade class. I am passionate about these students staying in music, art or other class settings where they are NOT failing and can build their self -esteem by having situations in the educational system to feel successful. The answer was, “no”. She is being pulled for math intervention and then she would miss science, etc. and on and on. The teacher went on to say it was all about getting the scores up because the sub-group of ELA/ESL kiddos was endangering our school making AYP. My conversation with my principal when I sat down to discuss this dilemma was centered around, “what is the solution?”. I don’t know but it seems to me that education is moving more and more toward curing the disease (raising test scores) but we are certainly in danger of killing the patient in the process. What will happen ten years from now when the kids we are teaching now with such a focus on scores, become adults? How will they view themselves and their education? Will the “patient” still even be in school? Something to think about.
I recently read an article about how Kindergarten is the new first grade. It was fairly accurate about what is expected in kindergarten now vs. a few years ago. At the end of kindergarten, students are expected to be reading at the level of what used to be expected somewhere during the first grade year. The article quoted two points of view on that. One: Kids are able to learn these concepts at this age and if presented in a fun and engaging way, why not take advantage of it and teach it. The second point of view: It isn’t about the capability of the kids to learn these things now. They are missing some other important things that used to be learned in kindergarten – mostly experiential and social/emotional things. These skills need to be in place before the academics.
The question is this, I think: Just because kids CAN learn to do more academics early, is that a reason to push it at age 5, especially when many don’t have the social and emotional skills in place yet? Where and when are we (as educators) expecting they will learn those skills?
An analogy that comes to mind is our highway system. We can get from point A to point B much faster now than when I was a child (not giving away my age yet!). The “highway” was a two lane (one lane each direction) and the speed limit was much lower. It did take longer to get to a destination. Now a person can get on an interstate or freeway and whiz along in multi-lane traffic at break-neck speeds and get to the same destination in no time. Advantages to that?…most certainly! Disadvantages? Have we stopped to think of any? What about the scenery that we don’t notice anymore. I remember seeing small vignettes of life as I rode past farms and neighborhoods. Does missing out on those things impact my life now as I whiz down a super highway? I really don’t know the answer to that. Think about the subtle message the movie “Cars” had about following the old Route 66.
Does developing curriculum from the top down with the emphasis on speed impact a child’s quality of education? In other words, to start with what a graduating senior should know and scale back that knowledge to then what a middle school student should know, to what a 5th grader should know, on down to what a kindergartener should know, be the right way to scaffold information? What are the flaws in this thinking?
First, I think that it doesn’t take into account what is age and developmentally appropriate but second of all, by the time these kindergarteners get to be a graduating senior, will they be needing to know the same information we started out developing this curriculum around? I am guessing not necessarily.
There are some “givens” though. Every child needs to know how to read and they need to know how basic math computation works. They also need to learn to collaborate and innovate and express themselves appropriately. These skills aren’t necessarily identified in the curriculum. They aren’t measured easily with data but the stark truth is this: If students don’t have the social and emotional skills, if they can’t use their imagination to innovate and create, if they can’t use the information and filter out on their own what is true and useful, it really won’t matter that they know their multiplication facts or any other “drill and kill” fact. Those things would be useless because the bottom line is that they don’t know the beauty of knowledge. The highway will have zoomed too fast for them to absorb and own the information and use it to be productive and happy citizens of society.
C, E-flat and G go into a bar. The bartender says, “sorry,
but we don’t serve minors.” So E-flat leaves, and C and G
have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the
fifth is diminished and G is out flat. F comes in and tries
to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.
D comes in and heads for the bathroom saying, “Excuse me.
I’ll just be a second.” Then A comes in, but the bartender
is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor.
Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the
bar and says, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found
in this bar tonight.”
E-Flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with
nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, “you’re looking
sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major
development.” Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit
and everything else, and is au natural.
Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he’s
under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of
contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced
to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional