Book Review: Integrating Differentiated Instruction + Understanding by Design



Teaching and the study of thinking and learning means constant research and embracing the freedom to fail on the trail to the ultimate learning experience for our students.  I’ve enjoyed reading Integrating Differentiated Instruction + Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe.  It’s definitely one of those books that would have made more sense to only underline the things I didn’t want to remember…I ended up highlighting almost the whole thing.  As always, after highlighting in the book, I took the time to type my notes into Evernote so that they will be easily searchable later…lots of thoughts I will want to connect with again.  I’ve posted all the notes I highlighted below…

  • Understanding by Design (UbD)
  • Differentiated Instruction (DI)
As one expert explains, it takes robust curriculum and flexible instruction “if teachers are to have a realistic opportunity to meet the needs of all students in their classrooms, a truly daunting challenge given the increasing diversity of the student population” p. vi
Chapter 1: UbD and DI: An Essential Partnership
  • Educators need a model that acknowledges the centrality of standards but that also demonstrates how meaning and understanding can both emanate from and frame content standards so that young people develop powers of mind as well as accumulate an information base.  p. 1
  • Differentiated Instruction offers a framework for addressing learner variance as a critical component of instructional planning. p. 2
  • In effective classrooms, teachers consistently attend to at least four elements: whom they teach (students), where they teach (learning environment), what they teach (content), and how they teach (instruction).  p. 2
  • Understanding by Design is predominantly (although not solely) a curriculum design model.  p. 2
  • Differentiation is predominantly (although not solely) an instructional design model. p. 3
  • Axiom 1: The primary goal of quality curriculum design is to develop and deepen student understanding.  p. 4
  • Axiom 2: Evidence of student understanding is revealed when students apply (transfer) knowledge in authentic contexts.  p. 5
  • Axiom 3: Effective curriculum development following the principles of backward design helps avoid the twin problems of textbook coverage and activity-oriented teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent.  p. 6
  • Axiom 4: Regular reviews of curriculum and assessment designs, based on design standards, provide quality control and inform needed adjustment.  Regular reviews of “results” should be followed by needed adjustments to curriculum and instruction.  p. 7
  • Axiom 5: Teachers provide opportunities for students to explore, interpret, apply, shift perspectives, empathize, and self-assess.  These six facets provide conceptual lenses through which student understanding is assessed.  p. 8
  • Axiom 6: Teachers, students, and districts benefit by “working smarter” and using technology and other vehicles to collaboratively design, share, and critique units of study.  p. 9
  • Scenario: Mr. Axelt and his departmental colleagues have designed their curriculum together and meet periodically to evaluate its effectiveness, suggest modifications for future consideration, and share resources. They also discuss issues related to working in responsive classrooms. p. 10
  • Axiom 7: UbD is a way of thinking, not a program.  Educators adapt its tools and materials with the goal of promoting better student understanding.  p. 10
  • We hope you will come to see more clearly the role of Understanding by Design in ensuring that educators identify and teach the essential knowledge, skills, and enduring understandings that shape each of the disciples and the role of Differentiated Instruction in making certain that each learner has maximum opportunity to benefit from high-quality experiences with those essentials—and their complementary roles in doing so.  p. 11
Chapter 2: What Really Matters in Teaching (The Students)
  • To be an expert teacher is to continually seek a deeper understanding of the essence of a subject, to increasingly grasp its wisdom. p. 12
  • Before the curriculum design process begins, as it progresses, and as curriculum is tested and reminded in classroom practice, the best teachers are mindful that teaching is judged by successful learning and that learners will inevitably and appropriately influence the effectiveness of the art we practice.  p. 13
  • A student’s personal crisis eclipsed the teacher’s well-developed plans.  p. 13
  • To get to a point of productivity, the teacher had to let go of a planned sequences of assignments and work with one task until she and the student could unravel a problem that was blocking the student’s progress as a writer.  p. 14
  • When his way of learning became acceptable, he became a better learner.  p. 15
  • Quality curriculum should play a central role in meeting the core needs of students for affirmation, affiliation, accomplishment, and autonomy, but it is the teachers’ job to make the link between the basic human needs of students and curriculum.  p. 16
  • The best differentiation inevitably begins with what we might assume are “too high expectations” for many students and continues with building supports to enable more and more of those students to succeed at very high levels.  p. 20
  • Rubrics that clearly explain the traits of “good” work and move up from there can coach far more students in progressing from good to exemplary. p. 21
Chapter 3: What Really Matters in Learning? (Content)
  • Despite all good intentions and many positive effects, the standards movement has not solved the “overload” problem.  In fact, instead of ameliorating the problem, the standards may have exacerbated it.  p. 24
  • If we want students to explore essential questions and come to understand important ideas contained in content standards, then we’ll need to plan accordingly.  p. 27
  • Stage 1: Identify desired results.  What should students know, understand, and be able to do?  What content is worth of understanding?  What “enduring” understandings are desired?  What essential questions will be explored?  p. 27
  • Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence.  How will we know whether students have achieved the desired results?  What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?  p. 28
  • Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction.  What enabling knowledge and skills will students need to perform effectively and achieve desired results?  What activities, sequence, and resources are best suited to accomplish our goals?  p. 28
  • We have found that when people plan backward, by design, they are much less likely to succumb to the problematic aspects of activity- or coverage-oriented teaching.  p. 29
  • Another process involves interrogating the content using questions such as these: Why exactly are we teaching _____?  What do we want student stop understand and be able to do five years from now?  If this unit is a story, what’s the moral?  What couldn’t people do if they didn’t understand ________? p. 32
  • UbD Exchange website: p. 32
  • Like any effective graphic organizer or process tool, the template leaves a cognitive residue that enhances curriculum planning.  p. 32
  • The logic of backward design dictates that evidence derives from goals.  p. 34
  • A river needs banks to flow.  Backward design provides the structure to support flexibility in teaching and assessing in order to honor the integrity of content while respecting the individuality of learners.  The blending of UbD and DI provides stability of focus on essential knowledge, understanding, and skill and flexibility in guiding learners to the desired ends.  p. 37
Chapter 4: What Really Matters in Planning for Student Success?
  • It is vital to be clear about what is essential in content.  p. 38
  • The essence of our job is making sure that the curriculum serves as a catalyst for powerful learning for students who, with our guidance and support, become skilled in and committed to the process of learning.  p. 39
  • A key premise of differentiation is that virtually all students should have access to a curriculum rich with the ideas and skills valued by experts in a field.  That is both a lofty and a necessary ideal.  We translate it into reality when we say to ourselves, “There are many ways I can help my students learn.  My job is to find enough ways to teach and enough ways to support learning so that what I teach works for each person who needs to learn the essential content.” p. 39
  • At least nine attitudes and skills typify teachers who help all learners:
  1. They establish clarity about curricular essentials.
  2. The accept responsibility for learner success.
  3. They develop communities of respect.
  4. They build awareness of what works for each student.
  5. They develop classroom management routines that contribute to success.
  6. They help students become effective partners in their own success.
  7. They develop flexible classroom teaching routines.
  8. They expand a repertoire of instructional strategies.
  9. They reflect on individual progress with an eye toward curricular goals and personal growth.  p. 40
  • When a teacher is clear about the enduring understandings of a lesson or unit, that teacher is more likely to be at ease in offering students options to explore and express learning in a mode appropriate for the student’s learning profile.  The teacher does not “give up” anything in allowing a student to work alone or with a partner, or to express an idea in a more divergent versus convergent format.  It is the outcome that matters, and whatever route to the outcome works for a student is likely to be a help rather than a hindrance in constructing student success.  p. 42
  • It’s a very different teacher who accepts the reality that if a student has not yet learning a thing of importance, the teacher has not yet taught it well enough.  If a student os not growing—even if he or she is making A’s—the teaching is not teaching that student.  p. 44
  • In an effectively differentiated classroom, a teacher adheres to a philosophy that each learner is sent to school by someone who has to trust that the teacher will realize the worth of the child and be guided by a sense of stewardship of potential each time the child enters the classroom door.  p. 44
  • A teacher in an effectively differentiated classroom will not allow economics, gender, race, past achievement, lack of parental involvement, or any other factor to become an excuse for shoddy work or outcomes that are less than a student is able to accomplish.  p. 44
  • Send consistent messages to students that if something didn’t work today, both teacher and student will be back at it tomorrow and the day after until student success occurs.  p. 45
  • Teachers in effectively differentiated classrooms are hunters and gatherers of information about what best propels learning for each student.  p. 47
  • In a differentiated classroom, there is not even the expectation that everyone will complete the same task, using the same materials, and under the same time constraints.  It is, in fact, no longer possible to manager the classroom with “frontal control.”  Thus developing a system through which students learn to play a large role in managing themselves, their work, and their success is not an ideal but a necessity.  p. 48
  • Gather information from students about what is and is not working well for them as individuals and as part of small groups.  p. 49
  • Surely a part of one’s education is developing a growing sophistication about one’s strengths and weaknesses, understanding what facilitates and hinders one’s learning, setting and monitoring personal learning goals, and so on.  To fail in helping students become independent in these ways is to fail in helping them become the sort of perennial learner they need to be to succeed in an increasingly complex world.  It is really to fail in helping them become more fully human.  p. 50
  • Ask students to reflect on their own growth, factors that facilitate their growth, and likely next steps to ensure continual growth.  p. 50
  • A classroom in which one or two instructional strategies predominate is something like a dining room that only serves one or two items.  Even if they items are well prepared, they become monotonous to those who must consume them everyday.  p. 52
  • Classrooms are dynamic rather than static.  Yesterday’s sticking point for three students will become tomorrow’s victory.  p. 54
  • A student whose learning challenges make it difficult to demonstrate full mastery of grade-level skills, for example, show still show noteworthy growth from his starting point.  A student who came to the classroom with advanced master of skills should likewise show growth beyond those requirements.  p. 54
  • There’s no such thing as the perfect lesson, the perfect day in school, or the perfect teacher.  For teachers and students alike the goal is not perfection but persistence in the pursuit of understanding important things.  p. 56
  • Do we have the will and skill to accept responsibility for the diverse individuals we teach? Do we have a vision of the power of high-quality learning to help young people build lives? Are we willing to do the work of building bridges of possibility between what we teach and the diverse learners we teach?  p. 57
  • Instructional strategies online: p. 57
Chapter 5: Considering Evidence of Learning in Diverse Classrooms
  • Anyone concerned about teaching and learning is automatically interested in assessment. p. 59
  • By considering in advance the assessment evidence needed to validate that the desired retails have been achieved, teaching becomes more purposeful and focused.  p. 59
  • Like the judicial system, we need a “preponderance of evidence” to convict students of learning.  p. 63
  • The Six Facets of Understanding:
    When we truly understand we…
  1. can explain
  2. can interpret
  3. can apply
  4. have perspective
  5. display empathy
  6. have self-knowledge p. 67
  • When we call for application, we do not mean a mechanical response or mindless “plug-in” of a memorized formula.  Rather, we ask students to transfer—to use what they know in a new situation.  We recommend that teachers set up realistic, authentic contexts for assessment; when students are able to apply their learning thoughtfully and flexibly, true understanding is demonstrated.  Consider an analogy here.  In team sports, coaches routinely conduct drills to develop and refine basic skills.  However, these practice drills are always purposefully pointed toward performance in the game.  p. 68
  • When students can apply knowledge and skill appropriately to a new situation and can effectively explain how and why, we have the evidence to “convict them” of understanding.  p. 68
  • As a means of creating more authentic “performances of understanding,” we recommend that teachers frame assessment tasks with the features suggested by the acronym GRASPS
  1. a real world GOAL
  2. a meaningful ROLE for the student
  3. authentic (or simulated) real-world AUDIENCE(S)
  4. a contextualized SITUATION that involved real-world application
  5. student-generated culminating PRODUCTS and performances
  6. consensus-driven performance STANDARDS (criteria) for judging success. p. 70
  • The way in which we design and use classroom assessments should be directly influenced by the answers to four questions:
  1. What are we assessing?
  2. Why are we assessing?
  3. For whom are the results intended?
  4. How will the results be used? p. 70
  • Summative assessments are generally used to summarize what has been learned.  p. 71
  • Diagnostic assessments (or pre-assessments) typically precede instruction and are used to check students’ prior knowledge and skill levels and identify misconceptions, interests, or learning style preferences.  p. 71
  • Formative assessments occur concurrently with instruction.  p. 71
  • “Diagnosis, of course, is never completed.  Every contact with students reveals something that the teacher did not know before, something important to intelligent planning of instruction.”  (Taba and Elkins, 1966, p. 24) p. 72
  • Diagnostic assessment (pre-assessment) is as important to teaching as a physical exam is to prescribing appropriate medical regimens.  p. 72
  • “Teaching in the dark is questionable practice.”  (Taba and Elkins, 1966) p. 72
  • “Praise keeps you in the game; real feedback helps you get better.  Feedback tells you what you did or did not do and enables you to self adjust.  Indeed, the more self-evident feedback, the more autonomy the performer develops, and vice-versa.”  Grant Wiggins p. 77
  • Four qualities characterize an effective feedback system.  The feedback must…
  1. be timely
  2. be specific
  3. be understandable to the receiver
  4. allow for adjustment  p. 77
  • Learners need to find out promptly their strengths and weaknesses in order to improve.  The greater the delay, the less likely it is that the feedback will be helpful or used.  p. 78
  • Here’s a simple, straightforward test for a feedback system: Can the learners tell specifically from the given feedback what they have done well and what they could do next time to improve?  If not, the feedback is not yet specific or understandable enough for the learner.  p. 79
  • Effective assessments serve not only as indicators of student understanding but as data sources enabling teachers to shape their practice in ways that maximize the growth of the varied learners they teach.  p. 82
Chapter 6: Responsive Teaching with UbD in Academically Diverse Classrooms
  • Differentiation reminds us that there will be times when a strategy can be used effectively in the same way with an entire class, times when use of the strategy needs to be differentiated in order to be used effectively with the whole class, and times when particular strategies may be especially helpful in supporting the developing understanding of particular students or small groups of students.  p. 86
  • Students need to know the learning goals of a unit or lesson and criteria for successfully demonstrating proficiency with the goals.  p. 86
  • There are many reasons to keep the old habits, of course, but they are not as compelling in their benefits as changes would be.  So the first step is to determine whether we have the will to do better.  p. 106
Chapter 7: Teaching for Understanding in Academically Diverse Classrooms
  • The first essential question suggests a big idea in reading—that the way you read is influenced by the type of text you are reading.  This questions opens the door to a host of important reading concepts and skills, including reading genres, text structures, and various reading comprehension strategies matched to purpose and text.  p. 111
  • The second essential question serves to uncover a variety of writing concepts and techniques, including authors’ style, voice, genre, organizational structures, idea development, audience consideration, and various types of “hooks”.  p. 111
  • Essential questions such as these are recursive in nature; that is, we don’t just ask them once.  They are used to frame larger ideas and processes and thus are meant to be revisited.  Indeed, as students deepen their understand over time, we expect more sophisticated and supported answers.  p. 114
  • Teachers who regularly use essential questions often note that the line between teaching and assessing becomes blurred.  p. 114
  • Follow up strategies to deepen student thinking…
  1. survey the class
  2. post metacognitive/reflective questions
  3. encourage student questioning
  4. use think-pair-share p. 116
  • “The notion that learning comes about by the accretion of little bits is outmoded learning theory.  Current models of learning based on cognitive psychology contend that learners gain understanding when they construct their own knowledge and develop their own cognitive maps of the interconnections among facts and concepts.”  Lori Shephard (Nickerson, 1989). p. 119
Pulling it all together: The WHERETO Framework
  • W=How will i help learners know what they will be learning?  Why this is worth learning?  What evidence will show their learning?  How their performance will be evaluated?  The W in WHERETO reminds teachers to communicate the goals clearly and help students see their relevance.
  • H=How will I hook and engage the learners?  In what ways will I help them connect desired learning to their experiences and interests?
  • E=How will I equip students to master identified standards and succeed with the targeted performances?  What learning experiences will help develop and deepen understanding of important ideas?
  • R=How will I encourage the learners to rethink previous learning?  How will I encourage ongoing revision and refinement?  As a reminder of the value of the R in WHERETO, we offer this maxim: If it’s worth understanding, it’s work rethinking.  If it’s worth doing, it’s worth reflecting upon.
  • E=How will I promote students’ self-evaluation and reflection?
  • T=How will I tailor the learning activities and my teaching to a dress the different readiness levels, learning profiles, and interests of my students? The T in WHERETO points to the importance of tailoring teaching so as to address differences in students’ identified needs and strengths, interests, and preferred learning styles.
  • O=How will the learning experiences be organized to maximize engaging and effective learning?  What sequence will work best for my students and this content?  The O in WHERETO simply reminds teachers to carefully consider the order or sequence of learning experiences as they decide the best means of reaching the desires results with the diverse groups of learners they serve.  p. 126
Chapter 8: Grading and Reporting Achievement
  • We believe that the primary goal of grading and reporting is to communicate to important audiences, such as student sand parents, high-quality feedback to support the learning process and encourage learner success. p. 129
  • Grading and assessment are not synonymous terms.  Assessment focuses on gathering information about student achievement that can be used to make instructional decisions.  Grading is an end-point judgment about student achievement.  p. 131
  • Grades should be derived largely from the results of summative assessments carefully designed to allow students to demonstrate accumulated proficiency related to identified content goals.  p. 131
  • “We certainly recognize the important of students’ work habits and believe that students should be expected to complete assignments, put forth effort, and follow reasonable guidelines.  The point is to distinguish process from results.” Tom Guskey (2000) p. 133
  • Our most able learners too often work only for the grade, with little regard for the benefits, the pleasures, and challenges of learning.  Ironically, to realize their advanced potential as adults, these students all need at least 3 characteristics:
  1. persistence in the face of adversity
  2. the ability to take intellectual risks
  3. pleasure in work
  • Competitive grading practices may unwittingly teach them exactly the opposite.  p. 134
  • Reporting systems include multiple methods for communicating to parents and the learners themselves.  Such a system might use report cards; checklists of essential skills; developmental continua for charting progress; rubrics for work habits; narratives; portfolios; parent conferences; student-involved conferences; or related means of communicating student achievement, progress, and habits.  The richer the systems, the more likely we are to achieve the goal of providing accurate information that supports future learning and encourages growth.  p. 137
Chapter 9: Bringing it all Together: Curriculum and Instruction through the Lens of UbD and DI
  • Teachers whose work is guided by the principles of backward design and differentiated instruction do the following:
  1. Identify desired learning results for the subject and topics they teach.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence of student learning.
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction based on the first two principles.
  4. Regard learner differences as inevitable, important, and valuable in teaching and learning.
  5. Address learners’s affective needs as a means of supporting student success.
  6. Periodically review and articulate clear learning goals that specify what students should know, understand, and be able to do as a result of each segment of learning.
  7. Use systematic pre-assessment and ongoing assessment aligned with designated goals to make instructional decision and adaptations.
  8. Employ flexibility in instructional planning and classroom routines to support success for each learner.
  9. Gather evidence of student learning in a variety of formats. p. 144
  • What are the unit’s enduring understandings? p. 156
  • All of these possible modifications—and many other options not described here—have two primary purposes:
  1. to ensure maximum growth for the full range of learners in achieving important curricular outcomes
  2. to provide flexible yet valid evidence of student understanding p. 161
  • Understanding by Design is a sophisticated planning process.  It demands in-depth content knowledge, the capacity to “think like an assessor,” concern for authenticity in learning activities and assessments, explicit attention to student rethinking, a blending of facilitative and directed teaching, and the disposition to critically examine one’s pans and adjust based on feedback and results.  Differentiated Instruction is also a complex process.  It demands continual attention to the strengths and needs of learners who not only change with the passage of each year but evolve during the school year as well.  It requires the capacity to create flexible teaching—learning routines that enable academically diverse student populations to succeed with rich, challenging academic content and processes, and to create learning environments that are both supportive and challenging for students for whom these conditions will be difficult.  p. 165
  • We believe the effort will pay off in more engaging and effective classrooms—for students and teachers alike.  p. 165
Chapter 10: Moving Forward to Integrate UbD and DI
  • “Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.”  Former president Herbert Hoover p. 166
  • “Think big, start small.” p. 168
  • To avoid “innovation overload,” we have found it beneficial to identify a small number of complementary actions as a starting point. p. 168

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