Most curriculum is designed without considering the goal. Instead of, “What do the learners need to know by the end of this?” the approach often is, “This is a great tool to teach X.”
This is often easy and practical in the moment.
Consequence is then you are doing work that may not be guiding the learner to that goal. Learning has become busy work instead.
Traditional lesson design typically works like:
- Identify content that needs to be covered.
- Plan a sequence to teach that content.
- Create an assessment to measure the learning that should’ve happened.
This means assessment is an afterthought.
Learning under this design isn’t durable or transferable. It’s a scattershot of facts. It also causes poor engagement.
So, what is Backward Design? Introduced by Understanding by Design (1998).
- Identify what students should know by the end.
- Create an assessment to measure the knowledge.
- Prepare lessons that will help students succeed in the assessment.
After developing your rubric, consider what needs to happen in order to have students meet each requirement that is asked of them.
Ask what is really needed to teach that info. Is a worksheet meaningful? Or reading? Or presenting? They could be if recitation, comprehension, or communication are part of the goals.
- What exactly do your standards require? Do they ask students to memorize and identify facts, or do they ask them to describe, explain, analyze, or create?
- If it’s the latter, how closely do your assessments measure those standards? Do they actually require students to do the describing, explaining, analyzing, or creating (which would likely require them to write, present, or create some product), or do they merely ask them to recognize when someone else does it in the form of an answer on a multiple-choice test?
- Do you need to adjust your assessments so they more closely align with the standards?
- If you do, the next step is to rework the lessons that lead up to that assessment. Does every lesson contribute to student success on that assessment? Could some of your lessons be omitted because they don’t connect directly to the assessment? Are you missing anything? For example, if your assessment requires students to write in academic language and support their ideas with evidence, you should include some lessons that give students practice with that kind of writing.
Finally, will the assessment be weighted heavily in your gradebook? (It should be.) The lessons and activities leading up to the final assessment are there to give students exposure to the knowledge and practice with the skills necessary to perform on that final assessment; ideally, they should receive no grades at all on those activities. If you absolutely must assign some points, be sure the final assessment is worth a heck of a lot more than those smaller tasks.