Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Designing Curriculum around Learning Targets

For several years, I have approached my curriculum using Understanding by Design (UbD).  This approach requires that you take a sort of "backwards design approach" in that you identify specific long-term understandings you want students to learn, then design assessments that will take you to that end, and finally designing learning tasks or lessons.  It is "backwards" because the traditional approach is to think of interesting and engaging lessons first and then think of ways to assess those lessons second.

The UbD approach allows you to differentiate several aspects of your curriculum.  Since you identify key understandings, you are not tied to your textbook and full class lessons.  As needed, you can pull in different resources for different kids.  You may come up with multiple ways to assess students.  The focus is on the learning, not on the completion of tasks.

One thing I have always struggled with in the UbD approach is the textbook reading.  I usually have student do very little textbook reading.  I do think of and use the textbook as a resource, not as a curriculum that students take home with them every day.  I do think that reading from a textbook as well as reading for information is an important task.  The problem I have ran into is that there isn't a textbook that has the key things I need the students to learn all tied together in one chapter.  What's a teacher to do?

This week I am out experimenting again.  We are working on the respiratory system and there are some things about the respiratory system that is most simply learned by reading about it.  Previously, I would have had students read a section of a given chapter, take some organized notes, and then discuss and work with those notes.  The problem was that I would be pointing to very specific places in the book for the notes to come from.  I hate doing all the work!

Today, I am putting more of the responsibility on the students.  Students are looking back at the Learning Targets for the unit, deciding which ones they think they could learn from reading the textbook, and then reading and taking some notes from the text on those targets.  My hope is that it will give a little more focus and purpose to their reading and open the door for me to use other reading materials, internet resources, or whatever in the future.  Will it work?

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