Understanding by Design

Learning focused is the best way to describe what I have just created. Being asked to use the UbD template has been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. It forced me to think backward and forget about task completion and focus on learning and growth. I did not know what to expect during this process, but I now know just how much I have focused on the completion of tasks in my classroom. The UbD template has given me the open door needed to start to change how my classroom and flow of learning continues. 

Previously, I was asked to create a 3-column table based on Fink’s (2003) research and now I have been asked to compare that table with the UbD model provided by Wiggins (2006). I have noticed quite a few differences in the layout and setup of the models. The simplicity of the 3-column table looks to be more straightforward and less time-consuming but lacks the detail needed for those that like to have a step by step detailed lesson. In the past, I was not a step by step lesson plan type teacher, but I have noticed how nice it would be to be able to follow the summary of learning activities in the UbD template. I still may prefer the 3-column table, but not having intricate knowledge of either model yet makes it hard to decide right now.

As Wiggins (2006) clearly states, “hands-on without being minds-on” is a reminder of the traditional design that even myself as a teacher is guilty of using. Just because a learning task is ‘hands on’ does not mean the students will learn from the activity or make the connections needed to come to a clear understanding. Before I began to use the backward design, I would think about the tasks that I wanted my students to ‘complete’, and I did not even think about what they would actually ‘learn’ from that task. 

As I reflect on the process of the UbD template and the steps I followed to create the model of my unit, I have decided that I completely agree with Wiggins (2006) when he says, “don’t confuse the logic of the final product with the messy process of design.” This whole process was messy and complete chaos and yet, in the end, the final product is a well laid out step-by-step success. I continue to think about the overall idea of using this well thought out template on a regular basis and I am reminded by Wiggins (2006) about the sheer magnitude of standards that we have to teach in one school year, as he states, 

“that if teachers devoted 30 minutes of instructional time to teach each benchmark (and many would require more than one-half hour to learn), we would need an additional 15,465 hours (or 9 more school years) for students to learn them all!”

With this fact in the back of every teacher’s mind, I recall a process called ‘unpacking the standards’ that Wiggins (2006) talks about as a helpful way to overcome this unbelievable amount of material that every teacher must ‘cover’. And still with this skill available to teachers and those who design curriculum, the students are still left in the dust as the amount of content they are required to learn continues to grow. I hope that learning about Fink’s 3-column table and Wiggins UbD model will give me the skills needed to help my learners become true explorers of everything in life not just in school.

As I attempt to apply this to my innovation plan, I find that the 3-column table may have a better overall fit to my blended learning model. The table allows for a more general view of the activities and assessments, whereas the UbD model requires too much detail in my opinion. Using Fink’s (2003) 3-column table will allow me to focus on the learning, while my students follow their personalized path within the blended learning rotation model. This process is far from over and I look forward to becoming more familiar with these models as I continue my DLL journey.


Fink, L.D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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