Transformational Teaching: UbD for pre-service teachers

This was my final ASCD session ūüė¶ , and it was from the standpoint of teacher education; a university team from Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, involved in pre-service education, and how they were working with UbD with these new teachers.

New Jersey revised Core Curriculum Content Standards in 2008 and that revision was framed in the language of backward design: big ideas, essential questions, enduring understandings. (Wiggins is from New Jersey!) For a brief moment listening to yet another state talk about their journey, I felt that a national curriculum might be a good idea.

They began with a single faculty (Science), followed up by a team who went to Princeton to work with Wiggins. Not everyone was on board or enthusiastic (surprise?) However, UbD was infused into all subject matter methods at both undergraduate and graduate levels for initial certification candidates.  They then took these ideas and presented it at the Hawaii International Conference on Education in January 2010.

‘It’s everywhere now’ is the message.

We then moved into activities (eek): a carousel brainstorming activity which aimed to explore the differences between knowledge and understanding.

They also linked UbD (kinda sketchily) with Bloom’s taxonomy and the six facets of understanding (explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy, self-knowledge) and see it as connecting well.

Interestingly, they emphasised the terminology of instructional blueprint over lesson or unit plans.

The key message of this session for me was that UbD was now so entrenched that it was becoming part of core practice in some teacher training

The presenters were:

Dr Donna Jorgensen

Dr Martha Viator

Dr James Stiles

Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ

And then I was walking out of the big convention centre for the last time, ¬†with people heading off to all corners of the United States, many with their bags already packed and heading out to the airport directly, the Exhibitor’s Hall already dismantled and the cleaning staff moving in.

I’ll reflect on the big picture meaning of the conference on the way home. I’d like to pick up on the themes and ideas that resonated for me across the sessions and how they apply to my own context. ¬†I also want to prepare a presentation summing up some of those ideas too.

I’ve enjoyed walking around San Antonio too. It’s a strange place from an Australian perspective, Texan, Mexican; a widely distributed city that, according to Wikipedia, is the seventh largest city in the USA at 1.3 million. ¬†It certainly didn’t feel that big or busy, or prosperous really, and I imagine a lot of the life of the city must be out in the suburbs away from the city centre. I loved the Alamo and the Cathedral and the Riverwalk, and I’ll post some better photos when I get home and make sense of them.

Meanwhile, I’ve got at least 25 hours of travelling ahead of me today, and a long wait at LAX.

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)