Curriculum change and Understanding by Design, what are they solving?

By | March 20, 2010

Not many teachers make an issue about curriculum framework or standards in this part of the globe. The only time I remember teachers raised an issue about it was in 1989, when the mathematics curriculum moved from compartmentalized (elem. algebra, intermediate algebra, geometry, adv. algebra & statistics) to spiral-integrated approach. The reason behind the change was the poor performance of the students. Many teachers didn’t like the change in the beginning not only because it’s the first time that the mathematics curriculum is organized that way, hence new, but also because it demands re-learning other areas of mathematics which they have not taught for years.  Also, teachers were not taught mathematics in high school nor in college that way. But the curriculum was pushed through just the same and eventually teachers complaints about it died down. Why? No one knows. They just continue teaching what they know in the way they think best.

Sometime in late 2001 or was it 2002, the then secretary of DepEd made a phone call to one of the country’s math education consultants. The country’s students seem not getting any better. Something’s got to be done about it. So one day, in 2002, the country’s basic math community woke up with a new curriculum, back to the compartmentalized system. The identified culprit according to the sponsor of the compartmentalized curriculum was that teachers are not that capable yet to implement the spiral-integrated curriculum that is why the still low students’ achievement. Clearly teachers need upgrading in their content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge and they need a lot of support resources for teaching.  The solution made to this problem? Change the curriculum. In fact not only to change it back to where it was but DepEd reduced the content further to minimum competencies consisting of learning of facts and procedures, a sprinkling of problem solving and an inch thick of content for mathematics. Did the teachers like it? Did it work? No one knows. They just continue teaching what they know in the way they think best.

It’s 2010. The minimum learning competencies lived up to its name. It provided minimum knowledge and skills. The students’ achievements did not get any better.

By June this year, the Math 1 (Year 7) teachers will be making their lesson plans based on UbD. UbD or Understanding by Design is the title of a book which proposes a new way of doing curriculum planning. In the school level, its in the way the teachers will be preparing their lesson plans. UbD is based on backward design. The main difference between backward design and the usual way of writing the lesson plan is that you spend time first formulating how you will assess the students based on your identified goals (aka enduring understanding and essential questions using UbD lingo) before thinking about the activity you will provide the class and how you will facilitate the learning.  I’ve yet to see and read a report from the proponents and users of UbD for evidence that it really works. And working in what aspect? in which subject area? and, whether it is better than the usual way teachers prepare their lesson plan?  Some schools who have tried it reported that at first, teachers had a lot of difficulty in making a UbD-based plan but they eventually got the hang of it. Are they teaching any better? Are the students doing well? Silence. I’m asking the wrong questions. For indeed, a great distance exist between way of preparing lesson plans and students’ achievement. So why are schools all over the country mandated to adopt UbD? I don’t know.

But this is what I know.  I know that teachers need support in upgrading and updating their knowledge of content and pedagogy.  I know that teachers teach what they know in the way they know.  These are things that cannot be addressed by simply changing the curriculum or changing the way of preparing the lesson plan, much more its format. The book The Teaching Gap which reports the TIMSS 1999 video study tells us what we should focus our attention and resources more on:

“Standards [curriculum] set the course, and assessments provide the benchmarks, but it is teaching that must be improved to push us along the path to success” (Stigler & Hiebert, The Teaching Gap, p.92).

I couldn’t agree more to this statement. I’m not very good at memorizing so to commit it to memory I paraphrased Stigler & Hiebert’s statement to: It’s the teaching, stupid.

Click here for my other post about UbD.

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21 thoughts on “Curriculum change and Understanding by Design, what are they solving?

  1. Vincent Isles

    You can expect that a few years from now and the achievement scores still low, DepEd will just say that teachers are not yet prepared to teach using UbD. And well, we will just continue teaching we know the way we do.

    1. mar

      I like your straighforward and reader-friendly way of expressing your ideas. I’ve been teaching math for 19 years. Based on experience, I believe that while a good plan matters, teaching greatly influences the students’ understanding and learning of a lesson.

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