EDU 6150: Reflection on Program Standard 4: Content Knowledge

This course (EDU 6150: General Inquiry, Teaching, Assessment Methods) has been a real wealth of knowledge. Overall, I feel that this course was one of the first in our program to provide me with concrete, applicable knowledge about the work of being a classroom teacher and designing a plan of instruction which ensures student success. The program standard which I feel I most improved on through this course was #4: Content Knowledge, specifically around setting instructional outcomes and designing coherent units, lessons and learning activities.

The most helpful materials I studied this quarter were the various excerpts from the text Understanding by Design published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. This pedagogical approach is entirely centered around the idea of Backward Design, or more simply, starting with the end in mind (see Figure 1). The backward design process encourages educators and curriculum developers to begin planning an instructional unit by first identifying the overall learning objective or goal. Once this is established, the criteria or evidence by which learning can be proven is decided, and this generally becomes the summative assessment(s) or project(s) completed throughout the course. Finally, the planner designs the individual learning activities and tasks which most adequately lend experience toward the overall goal identified in the first step. Through this traditionally ‘backward’ process, an entire unit is created with a much more thoughtful and enduring focus than that which is built on merely day-to-day activities or worksheets.

Stages in the Backward Design Process

Figure 1: The Stages in the Backward Design Process (from Understanding by Design)

To dig one step deeper into the backward design process, and help ensure coherence in the overall unit, the Spiral Curriculum is a tool I learned in this course for providing scaffolding within a unit, and facilitating a more comprehensive acquisition of knowledge for students. Understanding by Design defines the spiral curriculum as the idea “that big ideas, important tasks, and ever-deepening inquiry must recur, in ever-increasing complexity and through engaging problems and sophisticated applications if students are to understand them” (Understanding by Design, p. 135). Basically, the spiral curriculum asks teachers to first introduce basic ideas, then apply them directly to learning, then learn a little bit more and apply that, and then revisit the basic ideas to ensure they have been retained. This process is repeated over and over, so that the learning consistently circles back to the fundamentals, much like a spiral. This tool helps me feel that applying a broad concept such as Backward Design is a bit more manageable in smaller increments.

Overall, I have enjoyed this course and the pedagogical and content knowledge it has given me. I feel much more prepared to begin the planning process involved in instruction, and much more excited to step away from a prescribed curriculum and have a creative voice in the content which I will provide to my future students.

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