Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction
Understanding by Design (UbD) is a tool in education that focuses on enhancing understanding as the ultimate goal of teaching. UbD utilizes the backward design approach that uses results to make decisions about the process of learning. The backward design is a tool that helps teachers in planning their teaching activities by starting with results in the classroom. On the other hand, differentiated instruction refers to a system of teaching that gives students different opportunities of understanding what they learn in class. Differentiated learning has the objective of ensuring that students’ capabilities match the method of learning that teachers use in the classroom. The two methods of learning share the similarity of being proactive methods of teaching that involve all members of a classroom. This is unlike the traditional methods of teaching in which teachers chose what is good for their students without involving them or recognizing their interests and capabilities (Tuckman & Monetti, 2011). The following is a conversation that seeks to gather advice from Jay McTighe and Ann Tomlinson who are valuable stakeholders in UbD and differentiated instruction respectively.
Me: UbD and differentiated instruction have helped students in their learning encounters as well as easing the burden of developing teaching objectives. For instance, UbD requires the study of class outcomes before designing learning objectives while differentiated instruction involves considering the capabilities and interests of students before designing the curriculum. This has been helpful because the whole process of learning gears towards achieving the learning interests of students. How and why are teachers supposed to use these tools in identifying learning objectives?
Tomlinson: Learning in the past has been left in the hands of teachers and learning institutions. Teachers have been using class texts and institutional rules to design learning objectives for the students. The process ignores the fact that different students have different interests and capabilities in relation to their study. Differentiated learning requires teachers to acknowledge the needs of different students before making learning decisions (Heacox, 2009). This means that the learning objectives developed target individual members of the class and not the general class.
McTighe: It is true that in the past teachers have been responsible for all learning activities and decisions in learning institutions. However, UbD requires that learning objectives be subject to the constraints of class outcomes. This means that the objectives will always acknowledge the individual performance of students. Thus, the objectives will help students in achieving their learning interests (Brown & Wiggins, 2008).
Me: It has become extremely easy to design assessments and the appropriate grading rubric using the UbD and differentiated instruction. The process of preparing tasks for students is no longer difficult because a teacher always understands what the students need as well as how their interests. The learning tasks for students are able to hit on the questions that will enhance deep understanding in students (essential questions). However, there is a challenge on the best way of developing authentic assessments that will achieve the overall objective of an assessment. At the same time, essential questions should not only test the students’ understanding of a topic but also the application of the topics learnt. How can teachers use these tools in meeting the objectives of testing?
McTighe: Tests are the most indispensable tools of measuring the reliability and performance of a learning system. However, tests are not ways of determining the level of understanding of students. They should provide a benchmark for teachers to measure whether the learning process is meeting the desired objectives. UbD offers teachers an opportunity of checking the performance of the learning process. The outcomes guide teachers in determining the tests to give to students as well as the grading rubric to apply. In most cases, UbD leads to the development of an ideal test and a common grading rubric that acknowledges the needs of different students (Wiggins & McTighe, 2009).
Tomlinson: The focus of differentiated instruction is helping students integrate what they learn in class with outside experiences. Therefore, the authentic assessments that teachers prepare help them in determining whether the tool helps students in gaining knowledge from a wide perspective. Differentiated learning also acknowledges the abilities of individual students, which implies that teachers will develop essential questions that will test the understanding of students subject to their abilities and interests (Benjamin, 2008).
Me: The investment of the UbD and differentiated instruction in a wide range of learning needs is one of the areas that I have confidence in and which I found ideal to share with colleagues. This is because the tools recognize the diversities of learning among students and learning institutions. What are other areas that the UbD and differentiated instruction affect in the learning process?
Tomlinson: Differentiated instruction affects various issues and factors of learning. These factors range from results, assessments, and curriculum to the understanding of students. However, the key contribution of this tool is in helping teachers to develop ideal learning objectives.
McTighe: Understanding by Design goes beyond meeting different learning needs of students. The tool helps in tracking the effectiveness of the process of learning in achieving the desired objectives, which contributes to the overall effectiveness of learning.
The conversation has developed the need for teachers and learning institutions to incorporate modern methods of learning. These modern learning methods acknowledge the needs and interests of different players in education including students. Understanding by Design and differentiated learning are among the modern approaches to learning that will help teachers, students and institutions in achieving their needs (Askew & Carnell, 2012).
Brown, J. L., & Wiggins, G. P. (2008). Making the most of Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Heacox, D. (2009). Differentiating instruction in the regular classroom: How to reach and teach all learners, grades 3-12. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit/Works for kids.
Tuckman, B. W., & Monetti, D. M. (2011). Educational psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
Askew, S., & Carnell, E. (2012). Transforming learning: Individual and global change. London: Cassell.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2009). Understanding by design. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Merrill/Prentice Hall.
Benjamin, A. (2008). Differentiated instruction: A guide for elementary school teachers. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.