Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
What is Backward Design?
Have you ever thought about how to make sure your lessons are moving you toward big goals or underlying objectives? Sometimes, when we write lesson plans, we get caught up in the nitty gritty, choosing fun activities and materials without focusing enough on where we are going with our lesson. One way to address this issue is by using backward design, a theory of curriculum and instruction that suggests we ought to start with the end point and plan backward from there, considering how we will get students from where they currently are with a skill or concept to where we hope they will be. To use backward design, you will want to address the following steps:
- Articulate the skill, concept, or essential question you most want students to get at by the end of this lesson.
- Define for yourself where the majority of the students are in relation to this skill, concept, or question right now.
- Think backwards in terms of what students will need to learn or accomplish in order to get close to the understanding you want to achieve. Continue taking single steps backward until you reach the place most students currently are.
- Look over the steps you have outlined and think about teaching points or activities you might fill in to facilitate students' learning.
It can be hard to understand backward design in the abstract, though! The following example shows how you might use backward design with real students.
Subject area: Reading
Grade level: Fourth grade
Objective: Students will understand that characters in fiction often change internally over the course of a book or even chapter.
Current understandings: Most students in the class seem to think that characters are a certain way, and they will stay that way forever regardless of what happens in the book.
Backward plan, showing conceptual movement:
5. Students will see that the character is not the same way he was at the beginning of the text; for instance, he is braver than he used to be, or she is more honest than she used to be. Students will articulate this using specific examples.
4. Students will use specific language to describe a character's personality traits at the end of the text, using examples from the text to prove this description.
3. Students will use specific language to describe a character's personality traits at the beginning of the text, using examples from the text to prove this description.
2. Students will understand what we mean when we talk about a character's personality traits, using examples from their own life as well as texts to come up with relevant vocabulary for describing character.
1. Students will remember what a character is and articulate what they know about different characters in books or stories they have read or shared.
- Bring students together for a discussion of characters. Remind them of previous discussions about characters.
- Ask students what words they might use to describe a character, focusing on internal traits. If students need help, ask them to describe themselves or other real people before shifting to characters from text. Chart student responses until you have a large pool of words for describing characters' personality traits.
- Read aloud a picture book in which a character develops internally from the beginning to the end of the book. Stop along the way to encourage students to describe the character and to assess their comprehension of the text.
- Ask students to describe the character's personality at the beginning of the text, and then at the end. Challenge them to articulate their understanding in terms of how the character changed, including what events led to these changes.
- Show students that they have understood something important: often, in texts, characters change from the beginning to the end of the story. Now, ask students to think of related examples from other books they have read.
- Send students off to read independently. As they read, encourage them to think about how the characters in their independent books might be changing. Circulate and discuss this concept with individual students for assessment and instructional purposes.
- Bring your class back together and ask individual students to share examples of character change from their independent reading.
Backward design is a theory and strategy that encourages you, as a teacher, to start by thinking about where you want your students to be at the end of a lesson or unit, and then to think about how you can get them to move from where you are to where you hope they will be. If you start by making a backward list of conceptual movement, you will be able to choose activities, teaching points, and materials that facilitate this movement. By using backward design, you hold yourself accountable to teaching with depth and with an eye toward achieving new understandings and objectives.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack