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  • Writer's pictureThings Education

“I don’t have the time to try out new things…”

Hello! Welcome to the 18th edition of Things in Education, the fortnightly newsletter through which we hope to share the latest in education research and developments in the form of accessible summaries and stories to help you in the classroom and at home.

One of the biggest challenges that teachers face during a term of teaching is lack of time. A near universal feedback we have received while working with teachers on new pedagogical approaches like inquiry learning or project-based learning is, “How will we have time to do all this?

There are multiple ways to approach this issue of time and being able to engage students meaningfully with the curriculum. A fundamental way of doing this is to examine the curriculum and learning outcomes and prioritising them.

Borrowing from the Understanding by Design principles, it is essential that we group the learning outcomes into certain categories.

  1. Enduring Understanding (EU)

  2. Important to Know and Do (IKD)

  3. Good to be Familiar With (GFW)

Enduring Understanding (EU)

These are the concepts that you want students to, ideally, keep with them forever. To understand the chapter, these concepts are the foundation. Another more practical way of thinking about EUs is that these are concepts that will be built upon at a later stage of learning.

For example: In a chapter on Light in grade 5 or 6, one crucial EU is Light travels in a straight line. This helps to form the basis of students’ understanding of reflection, and at a later stage it helps them in their understanding of refraction, dispersion, formation of shadows, image formation, construction of microscopes, telescopes, etc.

Another example from biology for the chapter on Classification of Organisms: A good EU would be Organisms that share more common characteristics are more closely related. This not only forms the basis for students’ understanding of classification of organisms but also is a good takeaway for their understanding of classification in general. We can imagine that the chapter on The Periodic Table in Chemistry has a very similar EU Elements that share more common characteristics are more closely located in the periodic table. Here the concepts of species, speciation, biodiversity, evolution, and cell biology can all find a basis in the EU that closely grouped organisms have more in common than organisms in widely separated groups. Similarly in chemistry, chemical reactions, bonding and bonding properties can all find a basis in the EU that elements closer to each other are likely to show similar properties of reaction and bonding.

Important to Know and Do (IKD)

Once we know the long-term takeaways or the foundational concepts that we want the students to have from a chapter, then we need to assess what the students will need to know (knowledge) and do (skills) to have an enduring understanding. An example from the chapter on Classification of Organisms, some important knowledge would be:

  • Recall the defining characteristics of each group of organisms

  • Identify the key characteristics that differentiate organisms from closely linked groups

This set of knowledge and skills are useful to build up to the enduring understandings. They are crucial for the students to practise and master.

Good to be Familiar With (GFW)

These are ideas or outcomes that are not crucial, but if the students are familiar with these, it is good; if not, it may not really affect their fundamental understanding of the matter. For example: being able to recall all traits of organisms in the Mammal group of organisms; being able to recall all the elements of the third row of the periodic table; knowing the atomic number of each element. These are not absolutely necessary to have a conceptual understanding of the subject matter. However, if students know this, it may help.

Once the takeaways or learning outcomes have been prioritised, we can easily plan to spend time on things that are going to help with the EUs and the IKDs. The GFW can sometimes be simply ignored or depending on the circumstances can be given as a reading assignment, self study or a simple mention in the class. If we were to do the chapter on classification of organisms in class, we would not even bother with all the traits of each group, and focus only on the defining characteristic for the group. For example, it is enough for the students to know that animals with mammary glands are grouped in mammals. It is not important for the students to know all the traits of all the animals in the mammal group. Like, some mammals have hair on their bodies, but others (aquatic mammals) don’t.

So you are ensuring that the students get what is most important for them to understand in a given topic. And at the same time, there is enough time to do those important parts in an engaging way.

Confusing marks with understanding

In our experience, teachers have found this method useful to sieve out the important parts of a topic. However, there is a caution that needs to be made here based on our experience. A lot of times, either consciously or unconsciously, teachers tend to do the above exercise based on the marks (or grades) associated with the topic. And in the process, the parts of the chapter that carry the most marks are classified as EU. This is an issue. Prioritising the curriculum based on the weightage of marks is flawed. It doesn’t help students learn or understand.The fundamental assumption here is that marks equals understanding. In India, however, this is absolutely untrue. A student getting marks doesn’t mean that they have understood the concept. Instead, this framework requires us to use our deep understanding of the subject across chapters and across grades to identify the enduring understanding that will form the foundation of learning the various topics well.

Note: The description here is not an accurate representation of Understanding by Design (UbD). Only the principles of UbD have been adapted for a specific chapter/topic.


Recently as part of an ongoing teacher mentoring programme in a school in Bangalore, we facilitated a session on these concepts and how using parts of Understanding by Design, we can help teachers facilitate meaningful learning within the confines of limited time.


Useful Links:

  1. Here is a quick video if you are looking for more information on Understanding by Design.

  2. If you are planning to implement some of these principles in your class this is a nice checklist to have when planning your sessions.


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Edition: 1.18

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