How do you Keep the End in Mind When you’re Inundated with so Many New Challenges?


Allison Zmuda, ASCD FacultyAllison Zmuda is an ASCD Faculty member and author. She works with educators to align the Common Core State Standards or provincial or national standards with relevant and meaningful challenges that will both measure and motivate student learning. Zmuda specializes in working with a handful of clients on long-term school improvement projects to achieve their school community’s mission. Zmuda is a presenter for the upcoming spring and summer Professional Development Institutes on the Common Core. You can learn more about and register for the institutes here.

If you’re worried about how you or your staff will address implementation of the new standards, weed through and adopt new resources, or prepare students for the national assessments, you can make sense of those challenges by learning how to use the Understanding by Design® framework as a guide. This is the only two-day institute that has been developed in consultation with Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe using their latest tools and template. Throughout our two days together, participants will

  • Analyze the demands of the Common Core standards for unit and course design.
  • Review Understanding by Design® unit examples created from the Common Core standards.
  • Use the UbD™ framework to unpack standards into transfer goals, understandings, essential questions, and performance tasks.
  • Design unit plans that are powerfully aligned with standards.
  • Give and get feedback on unit designs.

How is that different from other professional development you might be considering? Many resources and institutes hyper-focus on the details without considering the big picture. That is antithetical to “backward design,” where we begin with the end in mind, design summative evidence to measure those goals of learning, and then, and only then, focus on instruction.

Let’s look at an example. We consider the larger goal of reading, regardless of grade level or subject area, to make it clear to teachers and students what we are aiming for and how they can demonstrate that through the design of the performance task. So the long-term transfer goal may be “students should independently be able to read any text and make sense of it (comprehension and analysis).” This is as true in math as it is in art and as true in kindergarten, where kids are reading “just-right texts,” as it is at the secondary level, where the whole class is reading Romeo and Juliet.

The performance tasks designed to support the long-term transfer goals are engaging, rigorous, and differentiated. The kindergarten task might involve students selecting a resource that means something to them (e.g., a picture book, a chapter book, informational text); reading an excerpt to an audience; and explaining what they learned from the reading experience.

The high school task for Romeo and Juliet might take an equally playful approach:

  • Intervening before it’s too late. Identify the moments in the play where, if the character made a different choice, the tragic sequence of events could likely have been avoided. Students explain what that moment is for the main character, why it is so pivotal in the plot, and what alternate results would have ensued (alternate ending or alternate description of the plotline) if the character had made a different choice. This can take the form of a new sequence of events (timeline), alternate scripted dialogue, or revised epilogue.
  • Dear Romeo: She’s not worth it. Write an e-mail to Romeo (or Juliet) that gives him (or her) perspective on the all-consuming emotion he (or she) experiences. The goal of the letter is to persuade the character that this is a phase that will pass. The basis of the appeal should be a combination of evidence from the play and examples from the student’s own personal experiences or prior knowledge.

These performance tasks are balanced with more conventional types of assessments (e.g., academic prompts, short-answer questions, multiple-choice examinations) to create a more complete picture of what students can do on their own.

The key in this institute’s approach is balance.

  • Balance of procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and application.
  • Balance of texts—more of a focus on informational texts.
  • Balance of writing—more of an emphasis on informative or explanatory research and publishing.
  • Balance in discussion—greater emphasis on student explanation and justification backed by text-based and data-driven evidence.
  • Balance between the familiar and the new.

The institute is designed for those both new to or more experienced with the Common Core or the Understanding by Design® framework and will be personalized based on subject area and level of expertise. Come join me!