Constructing meaning…

I’ve been at an Understanding by Design workshop with Jay McTighe.

Here are a few thoughts that appealed to me:

The AMT frame. Acquire knowledge, Make meaning, Transfer to other contexts. Nothing new in that but I liked the way he gave examples which started from the M, rather than the A, which is where most teachers naturally tend to start.  Given a real life problem to explore first, students are more motivated to learn the skills required to solve it! As the diagram shows, it should be fluid.

I think this could be great reflection tool for both teachers and students.  Ask yourself… Was the learning activity you just engaged in A, M or T?

Following on from that, he suggests turning Bloom’s taxonomy on its head.  Or jumping in at the different levels at different times as required.  It’s the same principle as the one above.  Provide opportunities for higher order thinking and creating meaning, through authentic learning tasks and situations, even if the basic skills haven’t been perfectly mastered.  His analogy involves playing football. You can’t expect kids to just do the drill and never play the game. They need to have some drill, then have a go at the game, then be coached in the skills they need to work on, then play the game again! Otherwise, as McTighe says, some kids spend their whole school life in an endless series of sideline drills and never get to play the game…

13 thoughts on “Constructing meaning…

  1. I like that idea of dipping in and out, not in a particular order. it’s so true – if you have to really master the basics first some kids may never play the game!


  2. Hi Edna,

    This sounds interesting and I did it empirically. So happy to see that I was not wrong and that what worked with my students (who are second language learners) can be “scientifically” (so to speak) supported!


    1. Yes, Christina. me too. That’s why it appealed to me. In second language, we have to be providing authentic opportunities to USE the language, otherwise all the grammar drills in the world are a waste of time!


  3. I think we also get a chance to see hidden gifts in kids when we start with M instead of A. I asked a student who had a tough time writing about his dream to tell me what he could do to get started on the dream as a 6th grader- his ideas blew me away but I’d never have heard them if I had insisted that he master the writing piece first.

    BTW- just tweeted this article- it’s that good!


  4. By starting at the “Make Meaning” stage, I feel you are on your way to developing a concept-based curriculum instead of a content-based one. The MYP has adopted new unit planners in the last few years that are based on UbD. Stage 1 involves coming up with the triumvirate of Concept, Unit Question and Context (called ‘Area of Interaction’ in MYP-ese) as well as the assessment tasks that should allow students to address the unit questions. Only then should teachers focus on what specific skills need to be taught in order to address the question.

    It’s a steep unlearning/relearning curve as most of us are so used to doing it the other: deciding what we are going to teach and then trying to come up with a real-life context in order to give it meaning (and usually not doing a very good job of it in my experience!).


  5. I like the football analogy… why are we practicing anyway if we don’t ever get to use it? (There are many things that I learned how to do in math class that did not make sense to me until YEARS later when confronted with a practical application as an adult. I was just a memorizer.) There needs to be an authentic reason. And kids need a chance to try out their skills and then hone them to try again. It really goes along with my school’s philosophy about technology. We don’t learn tech skills in isolation. We learn the skills as we are integrating technology to learn the curriculum/content. And the skills get repeated and hopefully mastered as we learn our studies.


  6. I really like the previous comment about maths learning, that is why text book maths is so dull and uninspiring to students, they cannot see the meaning in the pages they are filling out. Hands on real life problem solving makes senses it is authentic. All the more so when students can see the purpose in what they are trying to solve.


  7. I was also at the same conference got a lot out of the idea of
    “transfer” of knowledge. Jay gave an example of the strategies needed to swim butterfly and looked at how one needs to push the water down and away from the swimmer in order to move quickly. He then used the same principles of pushing water away from the swimmer and transferred it to breaststroke which works in a similar way.
    For true understanding to occur it really is about being able to transfer knowledge or skills to a different situation.
    It is really so basic and yet we can tend to forget to provide children with opportunities to transfer their knowledge or skills or to make these understandings explicit. Using analogies is also a great way of teaching and for me it certainly helps my understanding and enables me to retain information. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and found it enlightening.


  8. I use it in my maths class and the chilren find a reason for learning a particular skill but I believe I struggle a bit in literacy to start with M. Give me a few ideas.


  9. The AMT frame gave us a great idea to kickstart our next Inquiry unit – Aim: To help clarify central idea. Haven’t tried it yet. Will let you know how it goes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s