Monday, September 17, 2012

Understanding by Design

Last week was my second week at La Costa Canyon High School. From the co-teaching perspective, Week 2 is aligned with having teacher candidates act in a supportive co-teaching role. I provide definitions and a response from the reading, as well as proof of enduring understanding, essential questions, and evidence of learning—gathered from observing and supporting my cooperating teacher in the classroom while she instructed students this past week.

Definitions from the Reading
Enduring understanding: specific insights about big ideas we want for students.
Essential question(s): frame the teaching and learning, pointing toward key issues and ideas, and suggest meaningful and provocative inquiry into content.
Evidence of learning: Tasks of complex performance and rubrics.

Reading Response
The following quote sums up Understanding by Design, “...without clarifying the desired results of our teaching, how will we ever know whether our designs are appropriate or arbitrary? How will we distinguish merely interesting learning from effective learning? More pointedly, how will we ever meet content standards or arrive at hard-won student understandings unless we think through what those goals imply for the learner's activities and achievements? Good design, then, is not so much about gaining a few new technical skills as it is about learning to be more thoughtful and specific about our purposes and what they imply.” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)
I agree that understanding is shown when students, “explain, connect, systematize, predict; show meaning, importance; apply or adapt, see many perspectives and question its assumptions; see the author/speaker perspective; avoid and point out common misconceptions, biases, or simplistic views.” (PowerPoint by Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)
I appreciate that the authors compare teaching to architecture that follows standards of design and a vision of desired results. The "backwards" concept of a results-focused design (versus a content-focused design) is helpful. Beginning design work with "why" and the "so what" of what we're asking of the students is essential. Being clear about the relevance, relation, and reason they are learning what they are learning is key. By first, identifying desired results we can determine acceptable evidence and plan learning experiences and instruction.
From the Understanding Understanding chapter, the definition of knowledge (the facts, a body of coherent facts, verifiable claims, right or wrong, I know something to be true, I respond on cue with what I know) versus understanding (the meaning of the facts, the “theory” that provides coherence and meaning to those facts, fallible, in-process theories, a matter of degree or sophistication, I understand why it is, what makes it knowledge, and  I judge when to and when not to use what I know) was clear and eye-opening.
From a student-teaching perspective, it’s challenging at times when the co-teachers style of teaching doesn’t match with the readings and CSUSM instruction. Additionally, when I co-lead the lesson planning and instruction in a few weeks, without having seen these theories we learn in action, will I be able to translate my learning into action successfully or effectively? Will I be able to persuade my cooperating teacher to try these new methods? It’s a relief that Wiggins and McTighe understand and state that using the backward design may feel awkward and time consuming at first. I always do my best to link my practice with the theory. My teaching and teacher collaboration skills are the assessment of my learning, just as the students’ assessments prove their learning.
Evidence from Week 2 in the Classroom
Enduring understanding: Annotation is a significant part of high school, college, and career. Accurate and effective note-taking and annotation is a new skill for many college prep high school freshman. Social skills are equally important. It helps to have a network of people that students trust to collaborate with, count on, and work well with. Additionally, taking personal responsibility for learning and their lives is essential for students’ self-esteem, success, goals, and sense of self.

Essential questions
1.      Who do I study well with?

2.      What skills are expected of students entering college and universities?

3.      Why should I read?

4.      What is annotation? How do I mark up a text?

5.      What am I willing to be responsible for in my learning and life? (Do I have the courage to be different, myself, and reveal who I am to others?)

Evidence of learning
1.      Study buddies match-up and commitment

a.       Students consider who they work well with and choose six people who they will be accountable to (and vice versa) for studying, homework, and notes and assignments missed during absences.

2.      Skills Expected of Students Entering College and Universities Score

a.       Students rate their current skills against skills expected of students entering college and universities so they can compare that to the skills they have gained by the end of the school year.

3.      Personal Promise one-sheet

a.       Students reflect on the Claiming an Education excerpt, Our Deepest Fear and Hold Fast to our Dreams poems, and their dreams for the year and for their futures. Taking all of these reflections into consideration, students create and design a one-page poster/paper that represents their goals, values, and responsibility to themselves. 

4.      Annotation of Claiming an Education

a.       After the teacher thought aloud and modeled annotation for the first few paragraphs of text, the students annotated the remaining paragraphs.

(Note: my cooperating teacher doesn’t use lesson plans or rubrics; instead, she does modeling and shows the students multiple examples.)


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