UbD & PBL: Maximizing the Learning Process
An experienced educator shares insights on the importance of following the UBD framework to effectively implement the PBL process.
By Dr. David Reese
I have long been a passionate follower of Understanding by Design (UbD) and the work of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. As a former educator, I used the ideas and processes in my classroom and have seen how these learning experiences promote the application of important content connections and skill applications.
When we consider curriculum design and implementation, often teachers and building level administrators are most concerned with test scores tied to standards. In this climate and governmental legislation; they must be. Steven Weber (2011), Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools shared in his blog article that one of the big truths for curriculum leaders is “what gets measured gets done”. But how many school mission and vision statements focus on high standardized test scores? In my experience, most include future ready skills that can help students succeed beyond school. Utilizing UbD and Project Based Learning (PBL) can help schools meet both concerns.
The UbD GRASP (Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Products) template serves as an excellent structure for the design and implementation of performance tasks. This design promotes active engagement and application of content and skills. Jay McTighe reinforces this use through the concept of transfer goals; “Grant Wiggins and I have described transfer goals as the effective uses of understanding, knowledge, and skill that we seek in the long run; i.e., what we want students to be able to do when they confront new challenges – both in and outside of school. If we take that goal seriously, we propose that it has huge implications for how we plan curriculum, what we teach, and what tasks we give to our students” (Zmuda, 2018).
Through the GRASP template students are encouraged to apply their understanding to a problem/challenge/issue that requires the creation of products to demonstrate understanding while addressing the goal and audience for the task. This application provides relevant opportunities for students to use content and skills from the classroom in a meaningful way. Through this template, students must understand the content to be applied, as well as the real world context for the application.
Utilizing the PBL process students can work toward a variety of transfer goals while utilizing a variety of critical skills and applications. Schools need to identify what matters and through the curriculum, call these out as transfer goals. Using this idea, many schools are utilizing the GRASP template as the foundation and PBL as the process to help students achieve this transfer. Too often, educators share that they use PBL in their classroom only to find out that students create products, but do not actively engage in the process of PBL.
Utilizing PBL and design processes the student works in an authentic manner to come to their conclusions and to develop their products for their intended audience. This process frequently includes inquiry based upon the context, research, and collaboration as part of a team, problem finding and solving as a team, creating the product to communicate ideas, presentation, and ongoing reflection.
These instructional structures promote critical thinking and problem-solving in a meaningful context. As part of the curriculum, they provide applications for classroom learning. An instructional model that follows UbD for effective PBL implementation not only meets the needs of all stakeholders but most importantly —meets the needs of the students.