Friday , 19 January 2018
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Understanding by Design: A Framework to Support Effective Teaching and Learning

three stagesIf you ask most teachers, they won’t hesitate to tell you that they feel confined by pacing guides and curriculum maps that demand a lock-step, time-bound approach to student learning. When educators first hear that their district or school will be looking at curriculum planning using the Understanding by Design (UbD) framework, some immediately think that UbD is simply a way to map or pace curriculum and that their creativity and personal teaching style will be stifled by “just another template to check off the list.”  However, the power of UbD is not in the template itself but in the fact that the work is driven by the standards, and teachers lose no autonomy in terms of how they teach.

You may have heard UbD referred to as Backward Design, and that pretty much sums up the process.  Let’s think of it this way.  We start with the standards and say to to ourselves, “By the end of this unit, what should students know, understand, and be able to do?  What kind of knowledge should they retain for use in future studies, the real-world, or their personal relationships?  Once we have established this key information, we ask ourselves this key question:  What is the best way to assess students on the concepts, tasks, and understandings we articulated when we reviewed the standards?  Creating the assessments early on ensures alignment between our standards and our assessments.  Then, we create the learning plan – better known as lesson plans, activities, homework, and learning opportunities for students to bridge the gap between the standards and the assessment.

Understanding by Design is not a pacing guide.  UbD is a learning plan to ensure alignment between and among the content standards, our instruction, and the assessments we use to evaluate student understanding.

During the 2014-15 school year, Newton-Conover City Schools will provide professional development and support for developing learning plans through Understanding by Design. This work will ensure that we understand the standards and know what the standards demand of students and of teachers. UbD will help administrators and instructional coaches provide teachers with more clear and specific feedback directly aligned to both Standard III and Standard IV of the North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards.

After having two years to teach the new North Carolina Standard Course of Study, our teachers are becoming more comfortable with the standards and their implications.  It is a great time to review the standards and engage in critical collaborative dialogue about the standards.

Grant Wiggins shares the theory behind UbD and work around standards design.  Click links at left to learn more.

Grant Wiggins shares the theory behind UbD and work around standards design. Click links at left to learn more.

To Learn More about UbD, check out these sites.

What is Understanding by Design?

Hear Grant Wiggins explain the power for Backward Design

Understanding by Design Resources and Handouts

About Heather Mullins

Heather Mullins is the Chief Academic Officer in Newton-Conover City Schools. She is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who spent 12 years as a high school English Teacher. She received her B.S.Ed. in Secondary English Education from Western Carolina University. Heather completed her National Board Certification in Adolescent Young Adult English Language Arts in 2002. She holds an M.Ed. in Academically and Intellectually Gifted from UNC-Charlotte. Heather has served as a Curriculum Specialist in Hickory City Schools, an adjunct professor at Lenoir-Rhyne University, and a Professional Development Consultant for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. She completed her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership through Western Carolina University. Heather is one of the co-founders of #NCed Chat, North Carolina’s first Twitter chat for teachers. She is passionate about innovative practices, instructional technology, student ownership of learning, and supporting teachers. Heather serves on the advisory board for the North Carolina Digital Learning Plan, North Carolina School for the Deaf and Catawba Science Center. She is a recipient of the 2015 NCMLE Central Office Administrator to Watch Award. She also received the 2016 Don Chalker Award for Excellence in Educational Leadership. Heather is the proud mother of one son, Jackson.


  1. Danielle Preciado, M.Ed.

    Greetings! I am a graduate student currently pursuing an EDD. My doctoral capstone project utilizes the UbD framework. I am currently writing the report for my dissertation. I would to receive your permission to use the UbD: Stages of Backward Design figure that is featured in your article Understanding by Design: A Framework to Support Effective Teaching and Learning. If you agree to granting this permission, can you please provide the name and date that should be listed? Thank you in advance.

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