Backward Design
  • Description of Approach
    • Backward design is a technical-scientific model of curriculum development put forth by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe under the heading of Understanding by Design. The main tenent of the design asserts that when developing curriculum, units, and lessons, teachers should always begin with the end in mind. By doing so, the curriculum becomes framed around essential questions focused on those things that students should know and be able to do when the course is over. Framing the curriculum in this manner "makes connective, thought-provoking, and recurring inquiries more appropriately central to the learning experience" (McTighe & Wiggins, 2006, p. 280).
    • McTighe and Wiggins use a three stage process for backward design:
      • Stage 1: Identify Desired Results
        • Establish Goals
        • Essential Questions
        • State Student Understandings: what students will know and be able to do
      • Stage 2: Determine Assessment Evidence
        • Performance tasks
        • Other Evidence
      • Stage 3: Plan Learning Experience
        • Instruction
        • Activities
      • Unit Template
        • This sample template (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p.327-332) is for a whole unit on health and nutrition, but can easily be adapted for an overview of an entire curriculum or an individual lesson.

    • The logic of backward design is that by focusing the curriculum on enduring understandings essential questions, both learner and teacher can clearly see where they are going and to what purpose in relation to the curriculums goals and standards because it is anchored by credible and useful evidence of the desired results. The coherence of the learning activities with the teaching promotes student interest, develops the desired understandings, knowledge, and skills needed to master the content and encourage higher level learning and performance.


  • Strategies and Ideas for Implementation
    • Implementation of Understanding by Design, or Backward Design, is a lengthy process and cannot be accomplished overnight. It requires that both time and space be given to teachers so that they can learn and understand it themselves before they can begin applying it. Once implemented, teachers will continue to need that same time and space for continued development and further reflection to maintain and improve their curriculum, units and lessons. The process is a dynamic one and must be retweaked constantly. The task can be daunting and may initially meet with some resistance, but there are a number of strategies and ideas that can help ease the implementation process:
      • Create grade level mixed curriculum or departmental content area study groups that can work together reading and discussing the text.
      • ASCD's video series on using backward design can be viewed as a team as part of the preparation process prior to beginning implementation.
      • Build a leadership team of curriculum developers and send them to workshops or conferences to become "experts" so that they can teach their colleagues.
      • Get your district or school to sponsor introductory workshops as a scheduled inservice.
      • Work in content area groups to unpack state and common core standards to identify big ideas, major understandings, and essential questions and set performance anchors to guide the backward design process.
      • Create an induction program for new teachers so that all teachers are using the same process and to create consistency.
      • Look for and apply for grants to support the implementation process.

  • Group Analysis
      • By beginning with the end in mind, it gives one the opportunity to see what the whole process is going to look like. It reminds me of looking at a map. The departing destination can be seen, the path that will be taken, and the ending destination all in one area. (Brandi)
      • I like the map analogy. Even in the digital age of GPS and smartphons, if you do not put in your destination on whatever electronic device you are using, you could wind up lost and driving aimlessly for hours. You may even have to backtrack (reteach) and waste time and gas (effort) going back over roads you have already been down. Without a clear destination, the whole learning process can become extremely frustrating for both teacher and students because there just does not seem to be any point to it does there? ~Rebecca~
      • When beginning with the end in mind, you have a better understanding of where you need to be, therefore, you have a clearer understanding of what to do and where to go. Backward design makes sense because you know the overall outcome that you want to achieve. The map analogy clearly illustrates this model. (Senetra)
      • According to Ornstein and Hunkins, the idea of backward-design is similar to conducting a task analysis which would be valuable to students' accomplishing goals. This type reminds me of why we do benchmarks and other pretests. I can also reflect on the importance of the posttests to determine mastery of the objectives. "Subject-matter analysis determines what is important for the students to know, and learning analysis determines what would engage the students to learn." (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, pp. 218-219). This reminds me of the KWL charts. (Sarah)