UbD meets improving student learning (one teacher at a time)

This ASCD session was run by Dana Pakos from New Jersey and was easily the most interactive session yet (and I’ve heard a couple of quiet criticisms of the passivity of the audience role here).  Dana talked about his journey linking up UbD with the ‘One Teacher at a Time’ approach of Pollock and how he managed all that.

He paired us off, made sure we were keeping up with the ideas and often stopped the session for pairs to talk abut an issue. I  met a nice woman called Cynthia from Austin, TX this way and I must say, for an out-of-towner, generating some talk around the tables was a relief after sessions of listening quietly all by myself.  He even did the ‘high-five’ thing where we had to put our hands in the air, primary school style, when he wanted us to stop talking and focus back on him. Which worked.

I wasn’t familiar with the GANAG lesson approach that Pollock has developed but it seems to be a simple way of structuring a lesson so that it links into the most powerful areas that will positively impact on learning. GANAG is something like this I gather:

G-oals for the lesson

A-ccessing Prior Knowledge

N-ew Information



So Dana had set himself a big task. Taking a widely divergent group of adult learners through TWO learning frameworks (UbD and GANAG) as well as talking about how he’d combined the two. He did a good job.

Dana used Pollock’s work to address lesson delivery issues after he’d introduced UbD to his school/s. Even after UbD he still felt he needed better alignment among the teachers  relating to curriculum, instruction and assessment, which I thought was interesting. He put it that:  ‘We were struggling with UbD alone’

His key aim then was to pull together the best aspects of UbD with the ‘Classroom Instruction that Works’ framework to positively impact teacher ‘automaticity’ and student achievement. He talked about the ‘Essential 9’ which are what research shows are  ‘high yield strategies’ as well as the The ‘BigFour’ approach which provides a way for each teacher to improve the learning of every student.

  1. Use learning targets (benchmarks)
  2. Plan and use instructional strategies that work (there are the ‘essential nine’)
  3. Use varied assessment strategies
  4. Use performance data for continuous feedback to gain individual student improvement

He talked about how they did it: (they contracted Pollock for a school year, arranged five site visits, assigned reading and mandatory participation for all supervisors and voluntary participation by 2-3 members of each department, followed up by Skype calls…) but I thought it was a brave effort to layer on 2 or 3 external frameworks around teacher improvement and one which, he admitted, took a lot of energy and commitment to follow through.

The key lesson for me out of this presentation was that UbD by itself is not enough; it is not individual lesson focused and doesn’t have a lot to say about pedagogy and lesson by lesson approaches. That’s where someone like Pollok comes in.

Books referred to were:

Understanding by Design (Wiggins, McTighe, ASCD)

One Teacher at a Time – Pollock, ASCD

One Principal at a Time – Pollock, ASCD

Making the most of UbD – John Brown, ASCD

Classroom Instruction that Works – ASCD (used with all new teachers to help with lesson design)