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Understanding by Design: Thinking about the Key Principles for Your School. Allison Zmuda, Facilitator. Goals for Today’s work. Examine the four big ideas behind Understanding by Design Identify key challenges in teaching and learning in your school Student Achievement Coherence

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Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school

Understanding by Design: Thinking about the Key Principles for Your School

Allison Zmuda, Facilitator

Goals for today s work

Goals for Today’s work

  • Examine the four big ideas behind Understanding by Design

  • Identify key challenges in teaching and learning in your school

    • Student Achievement

    • Coherence

    • Preparation for post-graduation

  • Design a template that meets your needs

Goals for tomorrow s work

Goals for tomorrow’s work

  • Review template components

  • Take template for a “test drive”

    • Use a unit that you currently teach

    • “Play” with essential questions, enduring understandings,and performance task

    • Align with established goals

  • Plan for October rollout

Essential questions

Essential Questions

  • What is “understanding” as a goal and what does it demand of assessment and instruction?

  • How can we more likely achieve understanding by design rather than by good fortune?

Cycle of teaching and learning





CYCLE of teaching and learning

Ubd focuses on the planning piece

Ubd focuses on the planning piece

  • A framework to –

    • Stay focused on the long-term goals

    • Get the blend of ‘content’ and ‘performance’ right

    • Engage learners by using questions and tasks

Why ubd

Why UbD?

  • If too many students…

    • do not apply their learning unless you ‘hold their hand’

    • do not know why they are learning what they are asked to

    • see their job as passive learners

Learner metaphors

Learner Metaphors

  • I learn like a ______________________ because __________________________

    Sample response: I learn like a car because when I hop into gear, I accelerate quickly when I get into the swing of things.

What patterns do you see in student responses

What Patterns do you see in student responses?

  • I learn like a turtle because it takes awhile for me to get something but in the end I understand.

  • I learn like a lamp; when I’m “on” I do my job well and when I’m “off” I don’t do much.

  • I learn like a dog because it takes me a while to completely understand things but once I get it, I won’t forget it.

  • I learn like a digestive system because I take in what I want and take out the rest.

What patterns do you see in student responses1

What Patterns do you see in student responses?

  • I learn like a clock because every second changes. One second I’m listening, the next second I’m not.

  • I learn like a little kid because everything they see and hear they want to touch and talk about it.

  • I learn like a CD because in some subjects I just flow freely and in other I skip like a scratched one and in others I need things repeated like the way a favorite song is repeated over and over again.

What patterns do you see in student responses2

What Patterns do you see in student responses?

  • I learn like a tabletop. Things just get piled on top of me and after a while everything gets cluttered. Eventually I discard everything and the process starts all over again.

  • I learn like meatloaf because my brain is fat in the beginning and then it shrinks up when it is overheated.

  • I learn like a camera because I am capable of doing great things, but I need motivation. I need to know why. Just like a camera, I need the perfect light and a perfect moment, then everything is in focus. Without these things, the camera has no use. Without inspiration I am like a camera without film.

What patterns do you see in student responses3

What Patterns do you see in student responses?

  • I learn like a dead body because all I do is lay there.

  • I learn like a ball of clay because teachers can mold my mind into whatever they teach.

  • I learn like a parrot because after seeing something I can mimic it.

  • I learn like a sponge because I absorb all of the information that is thrown at me.

  • I learn like a tunnel because things go in one side and out the other.

What patterns do you see in student responses4

What patterns do you see in student responses?

  • Your thoughts…

Our responsibility

Our responsibility

  • How did learners come to see themselves that way?

    • Too much “stuff”

    • Too much “teacher talk”

    • Not enough student questioning

    • Not enough student application

    • Not enough connections

Lack of alignment between daily lesson and long term goals

lack of alignment between daily lesson and long-term goals

The big ideas about understanding by design

The big ideas about understanding by design

The point of school iseffective understanding,

not prompted recall of content & compliance

Understanding = using content effectively for transfer & meaning

‘Backward’Design:from engaging work

and competent understanding, not ‘coverage’

Idea 1

Idea #1

The point of school iseffective understanding,

not prompted recall of content & compliance

Understanding = using content effectively for transfer & meaning

‘Backward’Design:from engaging work

and effective understanding, not ‘coverage’

I e how would you complete these sentences

i.e. How would you complete these sentences?

  • By the end of the year, learners should be (better) able, on their own, to effectively use all the ‘content’ learned this year, to...

How would you complete the sentence 2

How would you complete the sentence? (2)

  • By the end of their formal schooling, learners should be able, on their own, to use all the‘content’learned, to...

I e content is a t ool

i.e. Content isa ‘tool’...

Toward what end

Toward what end?

From dale carnegie

From dale carnegie

  • “Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.”

The big ideas 2

The big ideas - #2

The point of school iseffective understanding,

not prompted recall of content & compliance

Understanding = using content effectively for transfer & meaning

‘Backward’Design:from engaging work

and effective understanding, not ‘coverage’

What is real understanding how does it differ from knows a lot

What is real understanding? How does it differ from ‘knows a lot’

  • If you know a lot, but don’t really understand, you can only...

  • If you really understand you can...

Group the answers

Not just

Plug in

Say why







Figure Out


Group the answers

  • If you really understand you can...

One circle feeds the other

Figure Out


One circle feeds the other

  • If you really understand you can...

Formal langauge


your learning

in context

Make Meaning

via active


Formal langauge

  • If you really understand you can...

Not new idea from bloom

Not New idea — from Bloom

  • "Application is different from simple comprehension: the student is not prompted to give specific knowledge, nor is the problem old-hat. The tests must involve situations new to the student...”

  • “Ideally we are seeking a problem which will test the extent to which the individual has learned to apply an abstraction in a practical way."

In short if you have effective understanding you are able to

In short, if you have effective understanding, you are able to –

  • Efficiently and effectively retrieve and adapt the most appropriate content, in context, to make sense of things and perform effectively

Crucial design implications

Crucial design implications

  • Work must require students to –

    • Learn how to use content in novel situations

    • Confront endless problems with no obvious answer and various plausible alternatives

    • Face challenges that require figuring out which prior learning applies here

    • Handling varied situations: different demands/audiences/purposes/options/constraints

An example of unit design math

An example of unit design: math

  • What is fair? How can math help (or not)?

    • When we say something is ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ what do we mean? How ‘mathematical’ should our evidence be?

      • Students generate, categorize examples of “That’s fair!” and “That’s not fair!”

What is fair can math help

“What is Fair? Can math help?”

Problem - Four 7th-grade classes had a race of all the students.

IN GROUPS: Devise at least 2 different ways to determine a fair ranking of the classes, given the results.

Agree on the most fair way, and be prepared to defend your answers…

Individual ranking of runners in a race by all 7th-grade classes

Next further discussions

Next: further discussions

  • Jigsaw on fairness

    • What do we mean when we say that the rules of a game of chance are “not fair”? What role does math play in our judgment?

    • Why is it fair to have one person cut the cake and the other person to choose the piece?

    • When is straight majority voting “fair” and when is it “not fair”?

    • When is it “fair” to consider an “average” in ranking performance (e.g. salaries, home prices, batting average) and when is it “unfair”?

The content is learned just in time

The content is learned - “just in time”

  • “Guys, mathematicians have a few tools that might help us…”

    • Lessons on measures of central tendency:

      • Mean

      • Median

      • Mode

    • Quizzes to check for skill

Final assessment tasks

Final assessment tasks

  • Propose and defend a “fair” grading system for use in this class.

    • How should everyone’s grade be calculated? Why is your system more fair than the current system (or: why is the current system most fair?)

  • A final reflection on the question: What is fair and what isn’t fair?

    • When should you and shouldn’t you use mean, median, mode?

Question how does this unit differ from typical units

Question: How does this unit differ from typical units?

This unit....

Typical units...

  • The start:

  • The assessment:

  • The textbook:

  • The EQ:

  • Building efficacy:

Honors how we naturally learn

Honors how we naturally learn

  • Question, story or problem to solve

  • Just in time teaching related to the concept at the heart of the question, story, or problem

  • Application to a novel question, story or problem

  • Connection amongst questions, stories or problems

Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school







Transfer goals


Transfer Goals

  • Adapt your knowledge, skill, and understanding to specific and realistic situations and contexts

  • AIM: efficient, effective solutions for real-world challenges, audiences, purposes, settings

Meaning goals



Meaning goals

  • Make connections & generalizations, using the facts and skills –

    • e.g. interpret, gist, main idea, thesis, empathize, critique, etc.

  • AIM: independent and defensible student inferences about situations, texts – ‘helpful and insightful understandings’

Acquisition goals


Acquisition goals

  • Learn, with accurate and timely recall, important facts and discrete skills

  • Aim: automaticity of recall when needed in performance

Tma in french

TMA in French

  • T: solve a communication problem, on the spot, in which an American cannot make himself understood to a Parisian because the American relies on too many ‘faux amis’ words (sound like ours, different meanings) and is getting tenses wrong

  • M: Correctly interpret the scene and translate the meanings accurately

  • A: Acquire skills of accurate conjugation and vocabulary (related to the misleading words)

Tma in geography

TMA in Geography

  • T: Make a map of your school; see if people can read your map and use it to get somewhere

  • M: Make sense of the spatial relations, so as to interpret three dimensions into two; make sense of other people’s maps

  • A: Acquire skills of making and reading maps

Tma in physics

TMA in Physics

  • T: Maximize the distance travelled by a CO2 car, roller coaster or catapalted object, using the laws of physics

  • M: Correctly interpret the acting forces in the situation

  • A: Acquire skills of analysis of motion and knowledge

Tma in algebra

TMA in Algebra

  • T:Solve a non-routine and unfamiliar problem in context in which there may or may not be a linear relationship.

  • M: Correctly interpret the meaning of data patterns or line of ‘best fit’ of data points

  • A: Acquire skills of plotting point pairs, accurately drawing the graph of a line from a linear equation, etc.

The big ideas 3

The big ideas - #3

The point of school iseffective understanding,

not prompted recall of content & compliance

Understanding = using content for transfer & meaning

‘Backward’Design:from engaging work

and competent understanding, not ‘coverage’

Three stages of backward design

Three stages of backward design

Stage 1: Identify the long-term desired results

Stage 2: Determine appropriate assessment evidence to achieve those results

Stage 3: Design learning activities and instruction, given the goals of Stage 1 and evidence in Stage 2

Three stages of backward design1

Three stages of backward design

Stage 1: GOALS



What we typically incorrectly do

What we typically (incorrectly) do:

Identify the topics and content to be covered

Determine instruction for teaching the content

When grades are due, assess the learning of the content

Goals for learning

Goals for learning?

  • “I want students to learn to speak in the perfect tense”

  • “I want students to be able to solve linear equations”

  • “I want students to identify author purpose”

These are two of many skills; what’s the goal? What’s the point of each skill?



  • The drills

  • The game

Yes but

Yes, but…

  • “Backward from performance? Come on! My textbook is 560 pages! There are 24 Standards!”

No your course has no goals then

No. Your course has no goals, then:

  • A goal is not another task or to-do. It is the rationale and plan for how you prioritize & design everything on the to-do list, & use limited time wisely.

With incredibly limited time the 1 goal in driver s ed is still real driving safely

with incredibly limited time, the #1 goal in Driver’s Ed. is still “real driving, safely”

Hint not a good way to learn to drive

Hint: not a good way to learn to drive...

Aiming for explicit understanding

Aiming for explicit understanding

  • I want students to understand –

    • The Constitution

    • The 3 branches of government

No - not a goal - this just says what the content is

Backward from goals meaning

Backward from Goals: Meaning

  • “I want students to leave having inferred/realized that, now & in the future –

    • The Constitution is a solution, based on compromise, to real problems of balance and limit of powers

    • The compromise has a long, sometimes bitter history – with many fights that are with us and will alwaysbe with us.

Backward from goals transfer

Backward from Goals: Transfer

  • “I want students to leave able to transfer their understanding – on their own – to concretely address current and future situations:

    • Design a school government

    • Design a government for Iraq

    • Organize their workplace

    • Support candidates who understand our core principles

Note the key phrase on their own

Note the key phrase!“ON THEIR OWN”

  • There has to be a deliberate plan for developing independent and pro-active meaning & transfer

Thus the course is not the textbook

Thus, the course is not the textbook

  • The textbook is a resource

    • It is jam-packed, to be sold in 50 states!

    • Like an encyclopedia & dictionary, it provides topically organized content

  • No text can cause transfer, and most texts mistakenly treat meaning-making as acquisition of the “meaning” the authors give.

Treating meanings as facts prevents students from thinking

Treating meanings as facts prevents students from thinking

  • That’s like the textbook telling you the meaning of Romeo and Juliet, owl pellet experiments, or primary source historical documents, giving you no chance to make meaning yourself.

Thus prioritize use of textbooks

THUS: Prioritize use of textbooks

  • Given our understanding goals, which chapters should be –

    • highlighted?

    • skimmed?

    • skipped?

    • Re-sequenced?

  • What assessments are needed, beyond what the textbook has?

The relation between standards curriculum

The relation between Standards & Curriculum

  • Content Standards = building code

  • The Curriculum = the architect’s blueprint

Test prep and textbook coverage misunderstanding

Test prep and textbook coverage – MISUNDERSTANDING!

Don’t confuse -

With -

The doctor’s physical

Meeting building code

Teaching by mentioning

Learning facts & skills

Mindless use of a recipe

Prompted recall

  • Fitness & Wellness

  • A home designed to suit the client

  • Causing effective learning

  • Using facts and skills

  • A great meal

  • Fluent performance

What s the best use of precious class time

What’s the best use of precious class time?

  • What can only or best be done in class together?

  • What is the most engaging and thought-provoking way to use class time?

  • What can’t be found for free on the Internet?

Ubd template

Stage 2 - Assessment Evidence

Stage 3 - Learning Plan

Performance Tasks

Other Evidence

Other Evidence:

Other Evidence:

UBD Template

Stage 1 - Desired Results

  • The UbD Template–

    • ‘by design’ addresses the issues we have identified

    • T-M-A live at each stage of the template

Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school


HOW we assess

HOW we teach

Ubd template stage 1

UBD Template – Stage 1




Long term goals of schooling


Enduring Understandings

Insight, wisdom, inference,

gist, generalization that the

learner develops over time

Essential Questions

Kid friendly question that

activates prior knowledge and

focuses learning events


Primary knowledge and skills embedded in this topic, chapter

or theme as a basis for transfer

Ubd template stage 2

UBD Template – Stage 2




Elements of


Aligned with




Transfer Tasks

Novel problems or challenges that requires

explanation and application of learning

Aligned with meaning and transfer in Stage 1

Other Evidence

Straightforward, efficient forms of assessment

Aligned with acquisition in Stage 1

Ubd template stage 21

UBD Template – Stage 2





events as




Key Learning Events & Instruction

  • Goal is to maximize engagement and

  • effectiveness of instructionthrough —

    • Robust use of formative assessment

    • Gradual release of responsibility

    • Encourage “learning from failure”

Other variations on the template stage 2

Other variations on the template: Stage 2

  • Renamed “performance tasks” or “performance assessments”

  • Elimination of established criteria and added link for rubrics

  • Separation of Summative Tasks and Formative Tasks

Other variations on the template stage 1

Other variations on the template: Stage 1

  • Addition of mission related goals

  • Addition of 21st century skills

  • Addition of “student friendly” goals

  • Addition of critical vocabulary

  • Separation of knowledge and skill

  • Elimination of Transfer

Other variations on the template stage 3

Other variations on the template: Stage 3

  • Identified technology resources

  • Identified any pedagogical strategies already in use

Design your own template

Design your own template

  • Given the three stages and the variations presented, build your ideal template

    • (15 minutes) Work in groups of 2-4

      • Use Post-it Notes or index cards

      • Be prepared to explain your thinking to others

    • (10 minutes) Determine similarities and differences through gallery walk of templates

    • (15 minutes) Conference committee of everyone to get consensus on final version

Goals for today s work1

Goals for Today’s work

  • Review template components

  • Take template for a “test drive”

    • Use a unit that you currently teach

    • “Play” with essential questions, enduring understandings,and performance task

    • Align with established goals

  • Plan for October rollout

Meaning making

Meaning Making

  • Connect the dots’ -

    • Make sense of (seemingly isolated) experiences, data, or facts

    • Identify the gist, point, purpose, significance, big idea

    • Draw appropriate (but not obvious) inferences (e.g. motive)

Nature of intelligence

Nature of intelligence

  • “Intelligence cannot develop without matter to think about. Making new connections depends on knowing about something in the first place to provide a basis for thinking of other things to do – of other questions to ask – that demand more complex connections in order to make sense. The more ideas about something people already have at their disposal, the more new ideas occur and the more they can coordinate to build up more complicated schemes.”

    -- Eleanor Duckworth, The Having of Wonderful Ideas

Research on the science of learning

Research on the science of learning

  • New knowledge is built as an extension of existing knowledge.

  • When given a question, problem, or situation, people search their memory banks to look for an answer.

  • Novice learners need to acquire factual knowledge in tandem with conceptual understanding in order to be able to think effectively.

Research on the science of learning1

Research on the science of learning

  • The quality of focus during learning impacts the likelihood of whether it will be remembered.

  • The motivation and capacity to learn is naturally intrinsic.

Design standards for essential questions

Design Standards for Essential Questions

  • Spark a meaningful connection in the minds of students (connections to prior learning, accessible language, sentence structure)

  • Genuine inquiry (not a predetermined, fixed answer)

  • Encourages transfer across a range of learning experiences

Essential questions on comparisons relationships

ESSENTIAL Questions on Comparisons, Relationships

  • How are these alike? How are they different? What do I learn from the grouping/comparison?

  • How can one person impact the world around them?

  • What are the rules of this relationship? How does the context/situation affect the rules?

  • What am I bringing to the text? What am I getting from it? (text-self connection)

  • What relationship do I see here? How do I apply that?

  • Where do I see evidence of interactions in the world?

Essential questions on constancy and change

ESSENTIAL Questions on Constancy and Change

  • What changes occurred? What stayed the same?

  • How is this story/shape/problem the same?

  • How do people/communities change over time?

  • What are the events/challenges that create change?

  • How do people/environments respond to change?

Essential questions on patterns

ESSENTIAL Questions on Patterns

  • What looks familiar here? How do I use that to make sense of this situation?

  • What’s the pattern here? How does that help me make predictions?

  • How do I find/set up a pattern? How do I know if it works?

  • How do I describe/communicate a pattern?

  • What is the pattern in the text? How does that help me be a better reader?

Essential questions on analyzing text and data

ESSENTIAL Questions on Analyzing Text and Data

  • What does the author / text / the results mean? How do my results compare with what other people have found?

  • What are the relationships that I see in the text?

  • What is the relationship that I see in the equation?

  • How do I read between the lines?

  • How do I use my inferences to draw a conclusion?

  • Is my conclusion supported by my details/evidence?

Essential questions on point of view

ESSENTIAL Questions on Point of View

  • What information is this text giving me? What’s missing?

  • What is the intent of the text/author?

  • What does the author/character want me to believe?

  • How do I convince someone that I’m right?

  • Why am I so sure that I’m right?

  • Why is this person so convinced that he/she is right?

  • What do these groups/people disagree about? Is it possible to resolve it?

  • How do I justify my conclusion/judgment?

Essential questions on problem solving

ESSENTIAL Questions on Problem Solving

  • What’s my strategy? How is it working? What do I do if I’m stuck?

  • Where do I go for help?

  • How am I learning from how other people see or work on the problem?

  • What is the best strategy for this given problem?What kind of problem/situation is this? Have I seen it before? How do I use that past experience to help me?

Essential questions vs factual knowledge

Essential Questions vs. Factual Knowledge

Pop quiz on essential questions

Pop Quiz on Essential Questions


  • What makes objects move the way they do?

  • How does the body turn food into energy?

  • How are stories from other places and times about me?

  • Whose story is this? Whose voices aren’t we hearing?

  • Which parts of me are fixed and which parts of me am I free to change?

  • What were the primary causes of World War I?

  • Who is my audience and what follows for what I say and how I say it?

Role of enduring understandings

Role of Enduring Understandings

  • Pursue the Essential Questions in order to…

    • establish or create a theory

    • craft an inference

    • develop and test ideas by the learner

Design standards for enduring understandings

Design standards for Enduring Understandings

  • Big ideas at the heart of the discipline

  • Requires “uncoverage” in order to be earned

  • Assessor-friendly language -- measurable

Sample enduring understandings physical education

Sample Enduring UnderstandingsPhysical Education

  • Successful teams strategically position themselves to enhance performance. K-12 Collaboration, Knowledge

  • An effective training plan is clearly grounded in the goals of the individual. 9-12 Knowledge

  • Attention to detail has significant effect on overall results. K-12 Preparation, Knowledge

  • Successful individuals constantly monitor and adjust their plan to ensure that they are appropriately challenged. 9-12 Knowledge

  • Understanding rules and the appropriate use of equipment decreases the risk of injury to you and other people. K-12 Collaboration, Knowledge

Sample enduring understandings mathematics

Sample Enduring UnderstandingsMathematics

  • (Relations: Functions, Inverses) Recognizing the predictable patterns in mathematics allows the analysis of functional relationships.

  • (Functions, Domain and Range) Real life situations result in restrictions in the pattern.

  • (Variables) Variables represent the unknown so that we can generalize a pattern rather than being limited to looking at specific values.

  • (Measurement, Formulas) The accurate measurement of space is determined by the ability to visualize the object/problem situation and apply an appropriate algorithm.

Understandings vs factual knowledge

Understandings vs. Factual Knowledge

Pop quiz on enduring understandings

Pop quiz on enduring understandings

  • Writing involves many elements.

  • In a free-market economy, price is a function of supply and demand.

  • DNA

  • Students will understand how to compare and order fractions, decimals, percents, and numbers written in scientific notation.

  • Students will understand that there are numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.

Putting the pieces together

Putting the pieces together

Stage 2 assessment evidence

Worth being

familiar with

Big ideas &

Enduring Understandings

“Big ideas”


exploring and


in depth


knowledge & skill

Nice to know

Important to

know & do

Stage 2: assessment evidence

  • Traditional quizzes & tests

  • Paper/pencil

  • Selected-response

  • Constructed response

  • Performance tasks & projects

  • Complex

  • Open ended

  • Authentic

ASCD SF 2011; Zmuda and Herold

T m a still applies in stage 2

T - M - A Still Applies in Stage 2

Key questions as assessment designers

Key questions as assessment designers

  • (TRANSFER) By what evidence can we convince ourselves that they understand well enough to transfer what they have learned?

  • (MEANING MAKING) How will we determine if they grasp subtle understandings or can make new meaning of the content?

  • (ACQUISITION) Where do we look and what do we look for to see if students genuinely understand what they also recall?

Demonstration of understanding

Demonstration of understanding

  • EXPLAIN in their own words the “meaning making”

  • APPLY to new, complex situations

  • SELECT (without being cued) what is relevant based on an existing repertoire of knowledge and skills

Key research findings preparing teachers for a changing world

Key research findingsPreparing Teachers for a Changing World

  • “Authentic tasks increase student motivation to learn.” --Stipek (2002)

  • “Student’s beliefs about real-world significance of what they are learning were a strong predictor of their interest and enjoyment of math class.” — Mitchell (1993)

  • “Students give highest interest ratings to classes that make them think hard and require them to participate actively in thinking and learning.” — Newmann (1992)

Based on bloom s taxonomy

Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy

  • “If the situations are to involve application as we are defining it here, then they must either be situations new to the student or situations containing new elements as compared to the situation in which the abstraction was learned... Ideally we are seeking a problem which will test the extent to which an individual has learned to apply the abstraction in a practical way.”

  • — Bloom, et. al, 1956

Sample performance task first grade part 1

Sample Performance Task: First Grade (part 1)

  • Students will work in groups to identify the main offerings in the lunch line. Using their knowledge of “My Plate”http://www.choosemyplate.gov/students will determine the most healthful and least healthful options offered in the cafeteria (rank ordering). Students will explain the rationale for their order. (Critical thinking, Communication)

Sample performance task first grade part 2

Sample Performance Task: First Grade (part 2)

  • Students will design and draw their plate for their favorite cafeteria lunch. Write a persuasive letter to the cafeteria manager to ask for additional healthy items to be offered to supplement that favorite lunch. (Problem Solving, Communication)

Sample performance task chemistry

Sample Performance Task: Chemistry

  • You are a researcher hired by a group of expert mountain climbers. Hypoxia is the set of symptoms (headache, fatigue, nausea) that comes from a lack of oxygen in body tissues. It is often felt by mountain climbers as they ascend altitude quickly. Sherpas, long-time residents of high altitudes, seem to feel no hypoxic discomfort. Why might that be? Your group wants to know, and to benefit from the knowledge. Design a series of experiments that would test the difference in hypoxic symptoms between mountain climbers and Sherpas. Explain, using chemical equilibrium, why high altitude causes hypoxia in the climbers. How can Sherpas avoid these symptoms? How can you test for these possibilities? What would a positive test look like? What inherent errors would you have to be aware of?

Sample performance task geography high school

Sample Performance Task: Geography, High School

BIGMART is a chain of very large department stores. The owners of BIGMART have asked you, a geographer, for advice. They want to know if Whilkton, Illinois will eventually be large enough to support a BIGMART store. Currently, there aren’t enough people living in Whilkton and the surrounding area to make the investment in building a BIGMART store worth while. But, if the population of Whilkton is likely to grow by as much as 10 percent in the next 5 to 10 years, then the owner will go ahead with plans to build a store.Your task is to obtain enough geographical information about Whilkton to predict whether the population of Whilkton is going to increase by 10 percent in the next 5 to 10 years. In the space below, identify the geographical information you would need to obtain in order to formulate a reasonable prediction.

Sample performance tasks to frame world history

Sample performance tasks to frame world history

  • The design of a tour of the world’s most holy sites

  • The writing of a Bill of Rights for use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other new democracies

  • Report on Latin America to the Secretary of State: Policy analysis and background report on a Latin American country. What should be our current policy, and how effective has recent policy with that country been?

  • Collect and analyze media reports from the Internet on other countries’ views of US policies in the Middle East. Do we understand the issues?

  • Provide a briefing on the AIDS crisis in Africa and how American policy has helped as well as hurt the situation

  • Take part in a model UN on the issue of terrorism: you will be part of a group of 2-3, representing a country, and you will try to pass a Security Council resolution on terrorism

  • Russia: friend or foe? Provide the Foreign Relations Committee with a briefing on the current state of Russia, the last century of American-Russian relations, and future worries and possibilities

  • India and outsourcing: to what extent is the global economy a good thing for America? India? India’s neighbors?

Validity check question 1

Validity Check Question #1

  • How likely is it that a student could do well on the assessment by...

    • Making clever guesses, parroting back, or plugging in what was learned, perhaps with accurate recall but limited or no understanding?

    • Making a good-faith effort, with lots of hard work and enthusiasm but with limited understanding?

    • Producing a lovely product or an engaging and articulate performance but with limited understanding?

Validity check question 2

Validity Check Question #2

  • How likely is it that a student could do poorly on the assessment by...

    • Failing to meet the requirements of this particular task while nonetheless revealing a good understanding of the ideas?

    • Not being skilled at certain aspects of the task but those skills are not central to the goal or involve outside learning or natural talent (e.g. require acting or computer ability unrelated to Stage 1 goals)?

Other evidence

Other Evidence

  • Efficiently measures acquisition goals

  • Goals is a balanced assessment plan

    • Performance tasks are necessary to measure transfer and meaning making

    • Other evidence is necessary to measure the full complement of knowledge and skills

Forms of other e vidence

Forms of Other Evidence

  • Straightforward writing prompts (short answer, essay)

  • Execution of procedural knowledge

  • Summarization

  • Problems that have one predetermined solution

  • Questions that have an established answer

Drafting stage 3 learning plan


Drafting Stage 3: Learning Plan

  • If you have determined the goals (STAGE 1), and

  • If you have determined the evidence of learning (STAGE 2),

  • THEN what kinds of learning activities are most appropriate? (STAGE 3)

Gradual release of teacher responsibility

Gradual Release of Teacher Responsibility

  • I do, you watch

  • I do, you help

  • You do, I help

  • You do, I watch

    • This is a general schema for the development of transfer ability at any age, in any subject

Key elements of the learning plan


Key elements of the Learning Plan

  • Learner should be increasingly able to do it on their own

  • Ask as simple a question

  • Should require them to think, to transfer, to communicate

  • Give feedback on their learning and space to try again

Interrelated learning goals


Interrelated Learning Goals

Action verbs for a m t


Action Verbs for A-M-T

Teacher role and instructional strategies acquisition via direct instruction


Teacher Role and Instructional Strategies:Acquisition via Direct Instruction

  • To inform the learners through explicit instruction in targeted knowledge and skills; differentiating as needed

    • Lecture

    • Graphic organizers

    • Demonstration or modeling

    • Process guides

    • Guided practice

    • Feedback, corrections

Action verbs for a m t1


Action Verbs for A-M-T

Teacher role and instructional strategies make meaning via facilitative teaching


Teacher Role and Instructional Strategies:Make Meaning via Facilitative Teaching

  • To engage the learners in actively processing the information and guide their inquiry into problems, texts, or simulations, differentiating as needed

    • Graphic organizers

    • Concept attainment

    • Problem based learning

    • Formative assessments

    • Rethinking and reflection prompts

    • Using analogies

Challenge understanding by

Challenge Understanding by...

Providing new information that requires a student to extend the tentative understanding (broaden and confirm)

Providing conflicting information (contradiction, requiring re-thinking)

Proposing an alternative understanding (challenge, requiring consideration of the same problem in a new light; might ultimately confirm or contradict)

Adding complexity to the issue (deepen, likely confirming some pieces and contradicting others)

Comparing a new understanding to previous understandings about related issues (connect and synthesize)

Meaning Making

No thinking activated without ambiguity

No thinking activated without ambiguity!!!

“Hmmm, what does this mean?” is the beginning of depth and getting beyond passive learning for acquisition only

No thinking activated without ambiguity1

No thinking activated without ambiguity!!!

Note that this demand runs counter to our instincts as teachers: we work hard to make things easier and unambiguous (i.e. when acquisition is the goal)

Eric mazur s research in physics at harvard

Eric Mazur’s Research in Physics at Harvard

  • After 10 minutes, Mazur poses a question that requires conceptual understanding (such as estimating the displacement of a toy boat in a bathtub).

    • Students write their answers on a sheet and identify their levels of confidence in the answer.

    • In pairs, attempt to convince others of their answers.

    • Students then answer the question a second time and report their confidence levels again.

    • The whole class is polled again about their answers.

Mazur s data over 2 decades

Mazur’s data over 2 decades

  • Students scored –

    • considerably better on standard physics course exams

    • higher on measures of traditional problem solving

    • much higher in conceptual understanding

  • Mazur: “No lecturer, however engaging and lucid, can achieve this level of improvement and participation simply by speaking.”

Key misunderstanding in sequencing first learn all the stuff

Key misunderstanding in sequencing: first, learn ALL the “stuff”

  • Try “just in time” teaching - content as needed, in light of questions and challenges

    • Look at the AMT structure, and see how often great learning begins with M, not A - e.g. anticipation guide, puzzle, debate, text, movie

    • Note the geography and math unit sketches

    • Look at computer games

  • We learn by going back and forth between part and whole, drill and performance:

    • The sequence of the textbook is designed to organize information logically, not necessarily to provide the best sequence for learning. (cf. CH 12 in UbD)

Action verbs for a m t2


Action Verbs for A-M-T

Teacher role and instructional strategies transfer via coaching


Teacher Role and Instructional Strategies:Transfer via Coaching

  • To coach the learners to independently perform in increasingly complex situations, provide models, and give ongoing feedback (as personalized as possible).

    • Ongoing assessment, providing specific feedback in the context of authentic application

    • Conferencing

    • Provide just-in-time teaching (both individuals, small groups and whole class) when needed

Examples of challenging inquiry


Examples of Challenging Inquiry

  • Here are some data about women’s marathon times. What is the trend? Are women likely to match the winning times for men in the marathon in the future?

  • Here is a video in Spanish of a scene in Madrid. What’s going on here? What might you say to help the person in need, given your limited vocabulary?

  • I found this object near my home, and I don’t know what it is. What do you think it might me? What do we need to ask and investigate after we take it apart?

Challenging inquiry


Challenging Inquiry

  • “By regularly confronting learners with such challenges and questions, we can help them become adept at tapping prior learning to understand a current challenge and thinking strategically, through practice and feedback: What does this remind me of? What have I learned about handling challenges of this sort? To what does this connect? How would I compare and contrast this with what we learned last week/month/year?”

    — Wiggins and McTighe

Learning to transfer


Learning to Transfer

  • “The research is very clear on this point: students who really develop and ‘own’ an idea are more likely to successfully interpret new situations and tackle new problems that students who possess only drilled knowledge and skill.”

    — Wiggins and McTighe

Designing and teaching for transfer


Designing and Teaching for Transfer

  • Establish and keep highlighting clear transfer goals.

  • Have learners practice judgment in using a few different skills, not just plugging in one skill on command.

  • Provide students with feedback on their self-cueing, knowledge retrieval, self-assessment, and self-adjustment.

  • Change the set-up so that students realize that use of prior learning comes in many guises.

  • Have students regularly generalize from specific instances and cases.

  • Require students to constantly reword, rephrase, and represent what they learn.

General template for a learning plan


General Template for a Learning Plan

  • Introduce a question, problem or other thought-provoking experience that challenges current understanding.

  • Engender plausible different answers and disagreement among learners so that a more satisfactory “theory” is needed.

  • Students either must develop their own theory or use ones provided by you, the text, or other students.

  • Students try out their theory, refining ideas as needed and debating the merits of the different meanings.

  • Students confront new challenges to their or the group’s theory, provided either by you, a text, a different experience or some other new viewpoint.

  • Students refine their ideas, as needed.

  • Students transfer their theory to one or more concrete situations, as needed.

  • Students generalize from their inquiries, being careful to note qualifications and nuances that derive from attempted transfer and discuss strengths, weaknesses, and limits of a theory

Key questions framing your learning plan

Key Questions, framing your Learning Plan

What’s the best use of our (precious) time together in class?

What do my STAGE 1 goals imply for what has to take place in class and outside of class?

What do the final evidence demands in STAGE 2 imply for learning and how to best achieve transfer?

What should I cover? What must the student uncover, with my design and facilitation help?

What moves and inferences must students learn to make increasingly on their own? How will they develop that independence ‘by design’?

What should the flow of the unit be to maximize student understanding culminating in successful transfer?

Purposeful learning aligned with goals

Purposeful Learning, aligned with goals

The essence of backward design

The key question, then: what learning is needed? How can the needed learning best occur?

Think of “teaching” and “content” as resources, not the causes of learning.

Think of textbook as resource, not the syllabus

Think how the need to understand is activated in movies

Think how the need to understand is activated in movies

We wonder what a clue, an event means

“The art of holding interest lies in raising questions and delaying the answers...”

– David Lodge, The Art of Fiction

How people learn

How People Learn

  • Students develop flexible understanding of when, where, why, and how to use their knowledge to solve new problems if they [are instructed in] how to extract underlying themes and principles from their learning exercises.

  • Understanding how and when to put knowledge to use—known as conditions of applicability—is an important characteristic of expertise.

Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school

Formative Assessment

(Keeping Track & Checking -up)

Summative Assessment

(Making sure)


(Finding Out)


Stage two planning is revealed in Stage three instructional design

Feedback and Goal Setting

Readiness, Interests, and Learning Preferences of students

Essential Questions


Performance Task

Academic Prompt


Exit Cards Peer evaluation

3-minute pauses

Vocabulary - quiz/notebooks


Creating Rubrics


Journals - Essential Questions+

Make assessment part of learning for everyone


Make assessment part of learning for everyone

  • Assessment for learning

    • Look at student work to coach for quality

    • Differentiate instruction based on what you see

  • Assessment as learning

    • Teach students to learn about their own learning

    • Reflect on nature of errors, talents, progress to further personalize future learning

Assessment for learning


Assessment for Learning

Information to modify and differentiate teaching and learning activities, streamline/target instruction and resources, use feedback to advance learning

“To make student learning visible so that teachers can decide what to do to help students progress” – effectiveness is based on the usefulness of the information in designing next stage of learning (importance of good record keeping).”

  • -- Rethinking Classroom Assessment

Assessment as learning


Assessment as Learning

Develop and support metacognition:

“Learning is not just a matter of transferring ideas from someone who is knowledgeable to someone who is not, but is an active process of cognitive restructuring that occurs when individuals interact with new ideas.”

  • -- Rethinking Classroom Assessment

The cost of not teaching this


The cost of not teaching this…

Students will never be able to get beyond:

“Is this what you want?”

Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school


All learners need

a balanced success

to effort ratio

Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school




Heavy Effort

Little Success

Understanding by design thinking about the key principles for your school




Great Success,

Little Effort

Summarize for stage 3

Summarize for Stage 3

I really understand___________________


I do not yet understand_________________


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