Understanding by Design

SIPS partners will develop a prototype curriculum framework based on Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s (1998) Understanding by Design (UbD) model. The UbD approach for curriculum development is known as “backwards planning,” which begins with the desired results and works backwards to determine the assessment evidence and learning plan. This approach ensures that teachers are deliberately planning their lessons with a focus on the expected objectives of what students should know and be able to do at the end of each unit.  

The curriculum maps will be organized into three stages aligned with the UbD framework: stage 1– desired results, stage 2–assessment evidence, and stage 3–learning plan.  

Stage 1

The desired results, provides the expected learning outcomes of the unit. This includes: 1) the performance and learning expectations covered in the unit; 2) major concepts and questions that students will explore; and 3) the breakdown of specific content knowledge and skills students need in order to master the learning expectations. Stage 1 outlines what students should know and be able to do by the end of the unit. 

Stage 2 

The assessment evidence, describes the means of assessing the concepts, knowledge, and skills from stage 1. This includes: 1) summative assessments such as projects, experiments/labs, performance tasks, and unit exams that occur at the conclusion of a series of lessons; and 2) formative assessments such as, graphic organizers, models, journal entries, and exit tickets that should occur on an ongoing basis during the unit. Stage 2 explains how teachers evaluate the level of student understanding based on the information taught. This section of the curriculum maps makes a direct connection between the learning expectations and content to be delivered in a unit and the ways in which students and teachers can evaluate learning and mastery of those expectations. 

Stage 3

The learning plan, outlines a road map for instruction, including lesson plans, investigations, and supporting resources. Stage 3 describes the steps students should follow to acquire the content and/or skills identified in the objectives for the unit. 


McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).