Understanding by Design Versus Traditional Curriculum Development

Topics: Education, Educational psychology, Design Pages: 12 (4256 words) Published: March 5, 2011

I- Introduction
II- Definition and characteristics
III-Six Facets of Understanding
IV-The Backward Design
V-Strengths and Challenges of the UbD
VI- Research Findings
VII-Concluding Remarks


The major goal behind school education or any educational experiences is to prepare students for further learning and more effective functioning in their lives. “One of the most important strengths of a country…is its educational systems…provided that the educational system will be directed towards moral, intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual growth.”(Cho, & Trent, 2005, p.9)

In Lebanon and all developing countries, most schools still rely heavily on the traditional or coverage approach to teaching which entails pressuring teachers to cover the chronologically of the textbook material. Over the many years of formal schooling, it has been shown that this method does not certainly lead to students’ deep grasp of information. At the same time, the evaluation and assessment schemes used in relation to this method, namely testing, focus predominantly on recalling information. They do not reflect the extent of students’ understanding of the material in question, while good education is the education that really focuses on developing understanding.

Furthermore, the problem with the traditional or coverage approach that has been used most so far in local and regional schools is that teachers have rarely the opportunity to answer the following questions: To what end is teaching directed? Do the students understand what the learning targets are? What understanding will emerge from all the activities and will endure? (McTighe & Wiggins, 1998)

Realizing these shortcomings of the aforementioned approach of teaching and based on extensive research on the nature of understanding and how people learn, several experts in education proposed alternative teaching frameworks with the aim of improving students’ achievement. This paper focuses on one of these methods, the Understanding by Design (UbD) framework designed by McTighe and Wiggins (1998). However, it’s noteworthy to mention that this method does not oppose traditional ways of testing and grading (Brown, 2004).

This paper starts with an identification of the approach’s distinctive characteristics as well as the particular conceptualization of the understanding and learning processes developed by McTighe and Wiggins (1998). Moreover, it discusses UbD’s two biggest contributions for the academic community: a theory of understanding referred to as the “Six Facets of Understanding” and a strategy for planning curriculum and school improvement known as “Backward Design”. At the same time, this paper attempts to highlight the value of this framework as far as students’ learning, school improvement and curriculum development are concerned. So, eventually there are two models of curriculum designing: The traditional curriculum development and The Understanding by Design.

Traditional Curriculum Development
The first model of curriculum design is the “Traditional Curriculum Development” which traditionally teachers design the curriculum by focusing on planning interesting activities and using different textbooks. Then, once the teaching is completed, educators plan for assessment at the end of each unit or chapter (Walker, 1971). Curriculum design points on the transmission of discrete pieces of information, frequently rote facts and formulas, from teacher to student. Traditional curriculum considers information as important in its own right and often pays little attention to whether or not students use the information in any real-life context (Bower, 1991). It does not provide students the chance to develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities that central to thinking and learning. Furthermore, traditional curriculum design does not build the kinds of personal and collaborative skills that support learning. In...
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