Common PD Terms - Defined

Professional Development: A comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach
to learning focused on improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement fostering collective responsibility for improved student performance.
(National Staff Development Council)
It is important to note at the beginning of these definitions that we have melded the essence of both Concept-Based Instruction and Understanding by Design in our definitions of the following terms specifically: Enduring Understandings, Essential and Guiding Questions. We also acknowledge that an enduring understanding may be less abstract as the focus of it narrows to a grade level or unit level. However, writing these statements should still strive to be at a conceptual level. Lastly, we also would like to note that as we practice this process of designing units, and curriculum in general, there will be examples we run across in our studies that are not exemplars. Two reasons for this come to mind – these examples are taken from actual teachers designing units in the past, probably with less knowledge than what is available because of their work; second perhaps, as already mentioned, our model comes from joining work from two large, instrumental bodies of knowledge and experience around Teaching for Understanding – Dr. Lynn Erickson, and the duo of Grant Wiggins and Jay Mc Tighe.  

Concept: An organizing idea for topics/facts. What makes concepts different than topics are these criteria: generally transfers through time; can cross cultures and disciplines; has a level of abstractness. Examples of concepts: civil wars; system; change; measurement; decomposition. Non-examples of concepts: checkbook; U.S. Civil War; FOIL method; squat lift; measuring (these are skills).

Enduring Understanding:
A statement of conceptual understanding built around concepts and relationships among the concepts. There are different degrees of abstractness depending on what level they are written for.

For example: A K-12 Science Overarching Enduring Understanding might be: Students understand that living organisms adapt to environmental changes; more specific Enduring Understanding for 1st grade might be: Students understand that plants can depend on light to survive. Both of these statements still use concepts. A non-example might be: Students understand that tulips depend on sunlight to grow. Tulips and sunlight might be considered topics. It could be argued that ‘plant’ is a specific living organism, however the idea of ‘plant’ at the 1st grade level is a conceptual idea.

A Conceptual Enduring Understanding meets the following criteria
  • Generally universal application (outside the discipline at times), timeless, abstract (to varying degrees), supported by different examples.
  • Enduring and essential understandings for a discipline.
  • When written it should have:
• No proper, personal nouns or pronouns
• A present tense verb
• Two concepts (or more)
• A transferable idea supported by the factual content 

Essential Questions:
Questions that come from, or lead to, the Enduring Understanding(s). They have no simple “right” answer, are designed to provoke and sustain student inquiry, address the conceptual and philosophical foundations of a discipline, raise other important questions, and can stimulate vital, ongoing rethinking of big ideas, assumptions and prior lessons.

Formative Assessments:
Assessments FOR learning. These represent a range of formal and informal assessment procedures used by teachers during the learning process in order to modify instruction and learning events to improve student learning and also used by students to support decision-making during their learning process.

Guiding Questions:
Factual or conceptual questions that support learning and lead to the ability to articulate an answer to the Essential Questions. These can have “right answers”, but still require students to use higher order thinking skills around the facts and skills being learned.

Learning Experiences:
Activities, formative assessments, performance tasks, and instructional strategies used during the learning process to facilitate deep understanding and leads to the ability to demonstrate the desired understanding or outcome.

Performance Tasks or Projects:
Designed to provide more authentic evidence that indicates whether students are able to use their acquired knowledge and skill in a novel context. In stage two of UbD: Determining Evidence, performance tasks anchor a unit.

Summative Assessments:
Assessments OF learning. These can take a variety of forms from forced choice to essay to performance tasks. This can be thought of as a culminating event to assess mastery of knowledge, skill, and understanding.

TMA (or AMT):
Acronym for Transfer, Making Meaning, Acquisition. Acquisition of knowledge/process is a means; making meaning of that knowledge/process and transferring this new learning are the ends. Unit design must consider all three of these ideas as summative assessments are developed, learning experiences are planned, and instructional strategies are put in use. These three ideas should drive why certain assessments are used as well as what type of learning experiences should be used to acquire new knowledge, make meaning of multiple ideas, etc.

An organizing idea for a set of facts; related to specific people, places, situations or things; does NOT transfer.

Transfer Goals:
Long-term desired accomplishments, involving important transfer or extension of learning. These goals represent what the teacher wants students to independently use their learning to do.

Understanding by Design (UbD):
Defined by Wiggins and McTighe, it is a "framework for designing curriculum units, performance assessments, and instruction that lead students to deep understanding of the content you teach." This process prompts the teacher to give serious thought into what it means for students to fully understand. The primary goal is for students to acquire knowledge and skill in order to make meaning of content and transfer that learning across time and situations.
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