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Backward Design

By Edlynne Venkataya
Backward Design

Backward Design is a planning structure that enables teachers to focus on the main learning goals for students. In Teacher Training College, we practiced how to create an effective lesson plan with activities, structure, strategies, and methods. However, Chapter 1: Backward Design of the textbook Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and McTighe (2005) discusses that we need to shift our thinking from what “we, as teacher, will do or provide in teaching and learning activities” to “thinking a great deal about the specific learning sought and the evidence of such learnings” (p. 14). Moreover, “too many teachers focus on the teaching and not the learning” (p. 15) so this process of switching our thinking process is vital to fully understand how we can encourage our students to effectively learn. We need to be deliberate with how we go about this process, where understanding the desired results and priority learning are the starting point which will assist us to better prepare lessons plans that are more meaningful.

There are three stages of the Backward Design:

1. Identify desired results,
2. Determine acceptable evidence, and
3. Plan learning experiences and instructions.

In the first stage, we need to ensure that we are aligned with the content standards and “review curriculum expectations” (p. 18). The second stage outlines the “collected assessment evidence needed to document and validate that the desired learning has been achieved” (p.18). Essentially, this evidence can be in the form of unit tests, individual or group projects, and/or investigation assessments. The final stage provides the opportunity for teachers to plan “appropriate instructional activities” which will help students “to perform effectively and achieve desired results” (p. 19). A helpful strategy is to use the WHERETO elements (pg. 22).

W: How will you help your students to know where they are headed, why they are going there, and what ways they will be evaluated along the way?

H: How will you hook and hold students’ interest and enthusiasm through thought-provoking experiences at the beginning of each instructional episode?

E: What experiences will you provide to help students make their understanding real and equip all learners for success throughout your course or unit?

R: How will you cause students to reflect, revisit, revise, and rethink?

E: How will students express their understanding and engage in meaningful self-evaluation?
T: How will you tailor (differentiate) your instruction to address the unique strengths and needs of every learner?

O: How will you organize learning experiences so that students move from teacher-guided and concrete activities to independent applications that emphasize growing conceptual understandings as opposed to superficial coverage? 

In my math class, I have structured activities such as cooperative learning, puzzles, and games, group work on vertical surfaces, lectures, etc. Using the Backward Design model, I have created and identified desired results for my project.

Topic: Transformations

Grade Level: 8

Standards: Common Core

Levels: 8.G.1 and 8.G.3

Established Goals:

1. Verify experimentally the properties of translations, reflection, and rotation.

2. Describe the effect of translations, rotations, and reflections on two dimensional figures using coordinates.


Students will understand that…

1. The properties of translation, rotation and reflections

2. The transformations are corresponding to the coordinates on a plane using an algebraic representation.

Essential Questions:

1. How do you describe the properties of translation and their effect on the congruence and orientation of figures?

2. How do you describe the properties of reflection and their effect on the congruence and orientation of figures?

3. How do you describe the properties of rotation and their effect on the congruence and orientation of figures?

4. How can you describe the effect of a translation, rotation, or reflection on coordinates using an algebraic representation?

Students will know how to translate, reflect, and rotate an image in a plane. They will also know how to write the coordinate points of each vertex of an image using algebraic representation.

Students will use their knowledge to be able to create their own image using GeoGebra application. They will verify experimentally the properties of translations, reflection, and rotation and describe the effect of these transformations on the coordinate using an algebraic representation.

The curriculum standards “inform and shape our work” (p.13) by providing “a clear conception of the vision of desired results” (p. 14). We need to know the desired goals for each grade level in order to ensure that students are taught in a systematic approach. This system that I am referring to is the curriculum. Once we understand and know the curriculum, we will be able to design and plan instructional activities that align with the desired goals. This relationship is the key to the success of our students learning and understanding as we, as teachers, are navigating our students through their learning. There’s a saying, “If you don’t know exactly where you are headed, then any road will get you there” (p. 14). It is critical to know where you, as teachers, are headed to ensure that an effective plan is in place to guide your students to the destination. The instructional plan is only as good as your clear and concise desired goal, the curriculum.



Wiggins Grant & McTighe (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: USA. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Edlynne Venkataya teaches mathematics at International School of Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya. 


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