Backward Design

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Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

Backward Design

Why “backward” is best

Deliberate and focused instructional design requires us as teachers and curriculum writers to make an important shift in our thinking about the nature of our job. The shift involves thinking a great deal, first, about the specific learnings sought, and the evidence of such learnings, before thinking about what we, as the teacher, will do or provide in teaching and learning activities. Though considerations about what to teach and how to teach it may dominate our thinking as a matter of habit, the challenge is to focus first on the desired learnings from which appropriate teaching will logically follow.
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Answering the “why?” and “so what?” questions that older students always ask (or want to), and doing so in concrete terms as the focus of curriculum planning, is thus the essence of understanding by design. What is difficult for many teachers to see (but easier for students to feel!) is that, without such explicit and transparent priorities, many students find day-to-day work confusing and frustrating.

The twin sins of traditional design

More generally, weak educational design involves two kinds of purposelessness, visible throughout the educational world from kindergarten through graduate school. We call these the “twin sins” of traditional design. The error of activity-oriented design might be called “hands-on without being minds-on”—engaging experiences that lead only accidentally, if at all, to insight or achievement. The activities, though fun and interesting, do not lead anywhere intellectually. Such activity-oriented curricula lack an explicit focus on important ideas and appropriate evidence of learning, especially in the minds of the learners.
A second form of aimlessness goes by the name of “coverage,” an approach in which students march through a textbook, page by page (or teachers through lecture notes) in a valiant attempt to
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