You can build a complete and powerful learning experience for your students that ensures they gain deep understanding of the material and the key themes or concepts by employing the Two-Step method of exploratory and discovery phases of learning developed by Flynn, Mesibov, Vermette, and Smith in Applying Standards-Based Constructivism: A Two-Step Guide for Motivation Middle and High School Students and using the Backward Design, the Six Facets of Understanding, and Where-To concepts found in Understanding by Design + Differentiated Instructionby Tomlinson and McTighe. (For another great book about teaching teens, see this new book by my friend and mentor, Paul Vermette, which was also edited by ME!).

Using the Understanding by Design method, teachers in effective classrooms begin with curriculum designed to ensure that learners develop essential frameworks of knowledge, understaning, and skill. They then develop instructional routines that ensure taht each learner will do so as efficiently and effectively as possible. Backward Design reminds us to begin with the question, What would we accept as evidence that students have attained the desired understandings and proficiencies? BEFORE proceeding to plan teaching and learning experiences.

After identifying learner outcomes and reliable and valid means of assessing student achievement of those outcomes, teachers may address the specifics of instructional planning - choices about teaching methods, sequence of lessons, and resource materials in order to
develop and deepen student understanding. Other things to keep in mind:
    • Evidence of student understanding is revealed when students apply knowledge in authentic contexts.
    • Effective implementation of learner outcomes 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.
    • Teachers provide opportunities for students to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess. These six facets provide conceptual lenses through which students reveal their understanding.
    • Teachers, students and districts benefit by “working smarter” and using technology and other opportunities to collaboratively design, share and critique units of study.

  • Remember, a design process provides a way of thinking – not a program. Educators adapt design tools and materials with the goal of better promoting understanding.

  • Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, (1994) says that "to begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you're going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction."
  • This is the basic premise of Understanding by Design, to begin with the end in mind; in other words, determine what it is that you want kids to know and be able to do with the content before you begin planning lessons to get them there. Here are some things to help you with that process, but before you begin using the resources below, you may want to examine your current beliefs about unit building using the anticipation guide.
  • Using Essential Questions
  • Please remember that there are many components to building a rich and engaging learning experience for your students. These components include, but are not limited to, engaging "hooks" to spark student interest and motivate learners, vocabulary instruction, skills and strategy instruction, exposure to multiple genres of text, use of technology and 21st Century skills, inquiry based learning, writing in multiple genres, and multiple assessments (both formative and summative) OF and FOR learning that provide differentiation in process and product and assess both knowledge of content and use of skills.