A Study of the Implementation of the Understanding by Design (UbD) Curriculum Design Framework at Raffles Girls' School, Singapore

Project Number
OER 09/08 PT

Project Duration
March 2009 - February 2011


The project examines the planning, implementation, and enactment processes of a curriculum design framework used in a whole school curriculum reform effort. Research documenting teachers’ planning and enactment of effective pedagogy using Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) curricular framework—Understanding by Design (UbD)—is just emerging. Similarly, little research exists to base evidentiary claims that teaching for understanding has a direct effect on improved student performance. Importantly, though, UbD’s principles and practices reflect a consensus of educational theorists on what pedagogies promote learning (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2001). These include: curriculum that focus on in-depth learning while at the same time making necessary connections to scaffold knowledge; formative and summative assessments that provide opportunities for further learning; and effective student learning occurs when practitioners have a good understanding of the disciplinary focus of the subjects they teach. UbD’s focus on professional collaboration in learning communities, curricular alignment, authentic pedagogy, and formative assessment is also supported by many international research studies (e.g. Newmann et. Al., 1996; Smith, Lee, & Newmann, 2001; Martin et. Al., 2000; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999; and Hayes et. Al., 2000). In the USA, numerous education bodies are presently using UbD to redesign their curriculum. Likewise, in recent years, many schools (Albright et. Al., 2008) in Singapore have adopted UbD for professional development. The project therefore contributes to crucial areas of research on the implementation of the curriculum reform, especially studies which focus on its potential impact on teachers’ professional beliefs, capacity for curricular and pedagogical innovation, and its impact on student learning and achievement. It draws upon, and extends, existing NIE professional development projects (e.g. Kwek et. Al., 2007) which developed teacher capacities in curriculum redesign and implementation. The project is unique in its selection of school for study. Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) (RGS), an independent girls' secondary school, has used UbD for professional development and curriculum design across the entire school for over 5 years. This allows the project to critically examine issues of whole school change, school readiness, and curriculum reform. The project will utilise qualitative research methodologies such as interviews, focus group interviews, artefact collection, and narrative methods to document the UbD implementation processes. The professional development component of the project will draw upon narrative methods to enable teachers and school leaders to write about their experiences, challenges and tensions in the process of implementing UbD across the entire school. The project team has approached RGS and explained to them the context and purpose of the project. The school has expressed keen and active interest in the project, and would like to see the collaboration as a means to build up their professional development and school research capacity.

Research Themes
Curriculum Innovation & Reform**

Funding Source

Related Links
NIE Research Brief Series 11-002: A Study of the Raffles Programme at the Raffles Girls’ School, Singapore
ReEd Vol 1: Teaching and Learning Get a Makeover

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