Backward Design and You

Upcoming Events:
Literacy and Learning, March 8, Seattle, WA
Michigan Association of Middle School Educators, March 13-14 in Saline, MI
Middle Level Essentials, April 4-5, Minneapolis, MN

National Schools to Watch/The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform: June 21-23
Innovative Practices Across the Curriculum: Rick Wormeli, June 24, Lakeville, MN

Advisory Activity:

Newspaper Tent:
Materials: newspaper and cellophane tape.
Task: build a freestanding tent that their entire group can fit into.

Frustrations Give Rise to New Push for Science Literacy

Education Week

What is science? The answer to that question is part of what is traditionally defined as “scientific literacy,” or the ability to understand science, its role in society, and make informed decisions as citizens, based on scientific evidence and knowledge. Scientists and educators have long recognized the importance of that skill. Today, many of them are pressing to make sure that science literacy occupies a more central place in standards and curricula, as well as in textbooks and teaching materials.45rtedfghbn

Backward Design

Understanding by Design: The Backward Design Model

“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding

of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you

always in the right direction.” (Covey, 1994)

The backward design model is comprised of the following three stages:

I. Identify desired results

  • Worth being familiar with: What do we want students to read, view, research and otherwise encounter?
  • Important to know & do:

    Mastery required at this level. Important knowledge (facts, concepts,

    & principles) and skills (processes, strategies, & methods).

  • “Enduring” understanding: What we want students to “get inside of.”

Wiggins & McTighe offer four criteria, or filters, to use in selecting ideas and processes to teach for understanding.

Filter 1

To what extent does the idea, topic, or process represent a “big idea” having enduring value beyond the classroom?

Filter 2

To what extent does the idea, topic, or process reside at the heart of the discipline?

Filter 3

To what extent does the idea, topic, or process require uncoverage?

Filter 4

To what extent does the idea, topic, or process offer potential for engaging students?

The Six Facets of Understanding


the Understanding by Design model, there has been developed a

multifaceted view of what makes up a mature understanding, a six-sided

view of the concept. The six facets are explanation, interpretation,

application, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge. They are most

easily summarized by specifying the particular achievement each facet


When we truly understand we:

can explain: provide thorough, supported, and justifiable accounts of phenomena, facts, and data

can interpret:

tell meaningful stories; offer apt translations; provide a revealing

historical or personal dimension to ideas and events; make it personal

or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies, and model

can apply: effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse contexts

have perspective: see and hear points of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture (connecting prior knowledge to new material?)

can empathize: find value in what others might find odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior direct experience

have self-knowledge:

perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of

mind that both shape and impede our own understanding; we are aware of

what we do not understand and why understanding is so hard (Wiggins and

McTighe, 1998)

II. Determine acceptable evidence


will we know if students have achieved the desired results and met the

expectations? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding

and proficiency? What is evidence of in-depth understanding as opposed

to superficial or naive understanding? What kinds of assessment

evidence will anchor our curricular units and thus guide our

instruction? This approach

encourages teachers and curriculum planners to first

think like an assessor before designing specific units and lessons, and

to consider up front how they will determine whether students have

attained the desired understandings.

  • Performance Based
  • Multiple Choice

III. Plan learning experiences and instruction


we want our designs to be engaging but engaging work is insufficient.

The work must also be effective, must promote maximum achievement, and

must demonstrate that students have achieved the targeted

understandings. An engaging design stimulates students to actively

participate whereas an effective design includes appropriate evidence

that desired results have been achieved.

The big picture of a Design approach

Key Design Question

Design Construction


(Design Criteria)

What the Final Design Accomplishes

Stage 1:

What is worthy and requiring of understanding?

National Standards.

State Standards.

PGCPS Standards.

Regional topic opportunities.

Teacher expertise and interest.

Enduring ideas.

Opportunities for authentic, discipline-based work.



Unit framed around enduring understandings and essential questions.

Stage 2:

What is evidence of understanding?

Six facets of understanding.

Continuum of assessment types.




Authentic work.


Student friendly.

Unit anchored in credible and educationally vital evidence of the desired understandings.

Stage 3:

What learning experiences and teaching promote understanding, interest, and excellence?

Research-based repertoire of learning & teaching strategies.

Essential & enabling knowledge and skill.

WHERE is it going?

Hook the students.

Explore and equip.

Rethink and revise.

Exhibit and evaluate.

Coherent learning experiences and teaching that will evoke and develop

the desired understandings, promote interest, and make excellent

performance more likely.