New Year's Resolutions

A teaching intern's Understanding by Design Plan

Backwards Planning May be the Answer

The New Year is quickly approaching, and people are reflecting on their lifestyle choices this year, turning towards thoughts of reform. “I need to lose weight!” “I want to donate more money to charity this year,” or “It’s time to read those books I’ve told people I’ve read but really haven’t.” I’m just kidding about that last one. Really. I totally read The Fountainhead.

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For me, New Year’s marks the time I begin to review the literature on Understanding by Design (UbD), also known as backwards planning-- a way for teachers to  think about unit design. I teach an inquiry into UbD the first week of January.

This year, however, I began to think about the possible connections between resolutions and backwards planning.

UbD can be confusing and a little heavy on jargon (Essential Questions, Enduring Understandings), but the heart of backwards-planning is really common sense: Plan with the end in mind. What can students do or know if they really understand? How will you, the teacher, really know that students “get it?”

I think these questions might easily apply to New Year’s resolutions, and the tenants of UbD might help to achieve those nebulous resolutions.

To wit, let’s walk through an example. And let’s take one of the most popular (and most commonly broken) NYE resolutions: Lose weight and get fit.

Understanding by Design dictates that we first envision the end result. In our example, it’s, presumably, to actually weigh less and be in better shape/health. Next, we might decide on the Essential Question and Enduring Understandings of the resolution. Essential questions are provocative, open-ended, and can be applied across lots of different topics.  

For this example, here’s a proposed Essential Question: How do we feel good in the skin we’re in?

This question is an Essential Question because it is open-ended and can be answered in different ways. People might feel good in the skin they’re in by learning more about their own ancestry. Or by becoming more comfortable with public speaking. Or by learning to love their body just the way it is.

But for some, the answer is to lose weight and get fit.

UbD also asks that we think about the necessary skills and knowledge one would need to be able to demonstrate true understanding.

This might be crucial to actually keeping that resolution. Do I need to learn more about meal planning and nutrition? Do I need to have a trainer help with with an exercise routine? Do I need to learn how to cook vegetables? Simply resolving to eat less or exercise more isn’t specific enough and may leave critical knowledge and skills off the table.

Understanding by Design is a framework for increasing student achievement, but it might also increase resolution achievement. Here’s a basic template. Try plugging in a resolution. Let me know how it goes!

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