Backwards Design

What are the fundamental “things” that teachers need to understand?

This question has been interesting to me thorough my career, and the list that comprises my answer appears to have changed (at least if I am interpreting the notes I have kept and saved over my career accurately). One of my current answers is backwards design or as I like to call it, “two steps forward and one step back.”

Planning for curriculum and instruction (or for any other purpose) begins with the goal. One of my most valued colleagues likes to ask, “What is it that we want to be true?” This becomes a logistic goal–something that is clearly actionable (we can do something to make it true) and reasonable.

From that goal, we define the conditions that we will observe when the goal is achieved. My colleague asks, “How will we know it is true?” In education, we have bee intensely focused (too intensely focused in my opinion) on measurable outcome to define success of our goals. Much that our students need to develop is effable, thus hard to measure, but that does not mean it is invaluable or that we should avoid articulating goals that are observed in qualitative or  other ways.

Once we understand the goal and the associated observations (these are presented as separate aspect of the work, but in reality, these are paired–if one is changed, then the other must change also), then we can design structures (instructional activities and learning experiences that will connect to two.