Chapter Three: Gaining
Clarity on Our Goals
Life can only be understood
backwards; but it must be lived
forwards – Kierkegaard (1843)
UBD is Goal Directed
We aim for specific results and design backward
from them accordingly.
The desired results in Stage 1 dictate the nature of
the assessment evidence needed in Stage 2 and
suggest the types of instruction and learning
experiences planned in Stage 3
Avoid the “twin sins:” aimless coverage of content,
and isolated activities that are merely engaging (at
best) while disconnected from intellectual goals in
the learners mind.
A teacher hasn’t taught until the student has
learned, no matter how elegant you think your
lesson is. - RJH
See Figure 3.1: Stage 1
Established Goals
Desired Understandings
Content standards, course/program objectives,
learning outcomes
Enduring Understandings based upon Transferable
big ideas that set the context for content meaning,
facts and skills
Essential Questions
Frame EQ’s to guide student inquiry and focus
instruction on the important ideas in the content
See Figure 3.1: Stage 1 continued
Key Knowledge/skills students will
Targeted knowledge can be three kinds
Building Blocks for desired understandings
 Knowledge and skills stated or implied in the
 Reference “enabling” knowledge and skills
needed to perform the complex assessment
tasks identified in Stage 2
Unpacking Standards
Common complaint is that there are too
many, too big, too small, or too vague
 Solution: Unpack the big ideas (GI’s)
and core tasks
 I don’t have the time (wah, wah, wah)
Unpacking World Geography
“The student will analyze the regional
development of Asia, Africa, the Middle
East, Latin America, and the Caribbean,
in terms of physical, economic, and
cultural characteristics and historical
evolution from 1000 A.D to the present”
Unpacking World Geography
Standard Re-framed
“The geography, climate, and natural
resources of a region influence the lifestyle,
culture, and economy of its inhabitants”.
Essential Question: “How does where you live
influence how you live and work?”
Transferability: Compare the early civilizations
of the Indus River Valley and the Huang-He of
China .”
 See figure 3.2, p.64
Unpacking Standards - Research
How People Learn (Bransford, Brown, &
Cocking, 2000)
A key finding in the learning and transfer
literature is that organizing information into a
conceptual framework allows for greater
transfer. (p.17)
 Learning with understanding is more likely to
promote transfer than simply memorizing
information from a text or a lecture (p.236)
Unpacking Standards - Research
Experts first seek to develop an
understanding of problems, and this often
involves thinking in terms of core
concepts or big ideas. Novices’
knowledge is much less likely to be
organized around big ideas; novices are
more likely to approach problems by
searching for correct formulas and pat
answers that fit their everyday intuitions.
Big Ideas? Core Tasks?
UBD guarantees nothing. It’s elegant
application ensures its power and effect.
 Every topic has more “content” than
anyone can reasonably address
therefore we must make deliberate
choices and set explicit priorities. See
Figure 3.3
p. 66
Big Ideas? Core Tasks?
Learners should be able to answer these
What is most important here?
How do the pieces connect?
What should I pay most attention to?
What are the (few) bottom line priorities?
Big Ideas connect the dots – conceptual
 The challenge: Identify a few big ideas and
design carefully around them and teach
“surgically” around them.
p. 66
Five Biggest Ideas in Science
Quantum physic’s model of the atom
 Chemistry’s Periodic Law
 Astronomy’s Big Bang Theory
 Geology’s Plate Tectonics Model
 Biology’s Theory of Evolution
What questions do they answer? 
(Wynn & Wiggins, 1997)
Big Ideas at the “core” of a subject
Need to be uncovered through Inquiry
(Gotta go slow to go fast)
 Big Ideas are the hard-won results of
inquiry, ways of thinking and perceiving
that are the province of the expert
 BI’s are not obvious
 Most expert BI’s are abstract and
counterintuitive to the novice, prone to
Big Ideas at the “Core” vs. “Basics
Basic Terms
• Ecosystem
• Graph
• Four basic operations
Picture composition
Fact v. Opinion
Core Ideas
• Natural selection
• “Best fit” data curve
• Associativity and
• Negative space
• Credible thesis
• Inherent error and
fallibility of methods
and results
The big ideas at the core of a subject are
arrived at, sometimes slowly, by teacher-led
inquiries and reflective work by students
Uncovered by design, understandings and
essential questions that push to the core of
a subject.
“Excavate the essence” of a subject or
topic” – (RJH, 2002)
SpEd students work to uncover the essence (BI’s)
of Macbeth – honor and loyalty
Essential Questions:
What are the difference between things that
happen to us and things that we make happen?
What is honor?
Is there a cost or price for honor?
Is it worth it?
What is loyalty?
Is there tension between loyalty and honor in
Macbeth? In our own lives?
Why is defending your honor so hard?
Core Idea of Loyalty…
Involves inescapable dilemmas, because
loyalties invariably collide.
 Learning that does not penetrate to the
core of what is vital about an idea yields
abstract, alien, and uninteresting
Attributes of “Big Ideas”
Broad and Abstract
 Represented by one or two words
 Universal in application
 Timeless
 Represented by different examples that
share common attributes
Lynn Erikson, 2001, p.35
W & McT define BI’s as…
Providing a focusing conceptual lens for
any study
 Providing breadth of meaning by
connecting and organizing many facts,
skills, and experiences; serving as the
linchpin of understanding
 Pointing to ideas at the heart of expert
understanding of the subject
W & McT define BI’s as…
Requiring “uncoverage” because its
meaning or value is rarely obvious to the
learner, is counterintuitive or prone to
 Having great transfer value: applying to
many other inquiries and issues over
time – “horizontally” (across subjects) and
“vertically” (through the years and in later
courses) in the curriculum and out of
W & McT define BI’s, and finally…
A BI is not merely “big” by virtue of its
intellectual scope. IT has to have pedagogical
power; and, most notably, be helpful in making
new, unfamiliar ideas seem more familiar
 A BI is not another fact or vague abstraction but
a conceptual tool for sharpening thinking,
connecting discrepant pieces of knowledge,
and equipping learners for transferable
 What “big idea” has helped you thus far in
making new, unfamiliar ideas seem more
BI’s typically manifest
 Theme
 Ongoing debate and point of view
 Paradox
 Theory
 Underlying assumption
 Recurring question
 Understanding or Principle
A Prioritizing Framework
What content is worth being familiar with?
What content is important to know and do?
What are the Big Ideas and Core Tasks?
See Figure 3.3. Upon reflection, what
priorities have you noticed thus far in UBD and
how might you use them to reframe your
 See “More tips for finding big ideas” pp.73-78
Framing Goals for Transfer
Core tasks are the most important
performance demands in any field
 Core tasks are authentic and involve
realistic situations
 Core tasks are contextually aligned to
real-world opportunities and difficulties
 Core tasks reflect the transfer with big
ideas sought over time. They are not
merely interesting assessments.
Framing Goals for Transfer
Core tasks with authentic challenges embody
our educational aims:
The goal of school is fluent and effective
performance in the world, not mere verbal or
physical response to narrow prompts
Transfer, reflective of understanding, involves
expertly addressing authentic challenges at core
tasks, where content is a means.
Successful transfer means that students can
perform well with minimal hand-holding, guidance,
or cueing by teachers
Framing Goals for Transfer
A challenge of reading a text is to gain
an understanding of what the text might
mean, despite the obstacles of ones
ABBA’s, limited tools and experience as
a reader
 A challenge in music is to turn a complex
set of instructions onto a fluent and
moving whole, more than just the sum of
the notes
Framing Goals for Transfer
A challenge in studying another
language is to successfully translate
meaning idiomatically, not just do a 1 to
1 translation of each word
 Your turn 
Transfer Demand/Degree of Cue
4. The task looks unfamiliar, even odd or
puzzling, and is presented without cues as to
how to approach or solve it. Success depends
on “far transfer.”
 3. The task looks unfamiliar but is presented
with clues or cues meant to suggest the
approach or content called for (or to narrow
the options considerably). Success depends
on realizing what recent learning applies in this
somewhat ambiguous or different scenario –
“near transfer.”
Transfer Demand/Degree of Cue
2. The task is presented with explicit
reference to ideas, topics, or tasks previously
studied, but no reference is made to the
specific rule or formula that applies. Minimal
transfer is requires. Success requires
recognition and application of which rule
applies and uses it.
 1. The task is presented so that the student
need only follow directions and use recall and
logic to complete it. No transfer is required –
simply a “plug-and play” approach.
Transfer Demand/Degree of Cue
Challenging tasks at the core of a
subject can clearly help us prioritize our
aims if we think of them as organizing
clusters of related knowledge and skill
 They would be the performance
equivalent of Phenix’s “representative
ideas” in each field
Transfer Demand/Degree of Cue
Core tasks embody:
Key state and local standards and goals
 Are related to Stage 1
 Specify the conditions that any proposed
assessment must meet in Stage 2
 Clarity that makes it far more likely that our
goals will be intellectually vital and coherent
 Academic goals setting process should
mirror authentic performance-based goals in
the arts, athletics, or carpentry.
Hey, where the hell is Bob?
See what Bob is up to?
 What about his journey resonates with
 What questions are raised?
 What “aha” moments have occurred?
Transfer Demand/Degree of Cue
What transfer/cue demand is required of your
NCATE assignment?
 What transfer/cue demand is required of your
classroom assignments?
No wonder we and our students are struggling in
the “real world!”

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