Reflections on UbD (Backward Design)

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Backward Design:

Designing in a “backward fashion” forces educators to start with the end goal in mind. Educators respond to each of these questions before digging into their activities/lessons:

  • What are the focus standards?
  • What levels of Bloom’s DOK are the students expected to engage in?
  • What will assessment look like and how will growth be measured?
  • What knowledge are the students coming into the lesson with?

All of these questions need to be answered succinctly prior to building out a backward design lesson. This format also ensures that the selected daily activities are focused and lead towards mastery of the standards. Initially going through backward design can be frustrating due to a shift in gears, but overall, it leads to ensuring student success prior to taking formative AND summative assessments.

Below is an example of backward design for a demo unit. This demo unit is focused on supporting educators as the learner. As demonstrated in stage one, the very first step is to establish a goal(s). In this case the goal is mastery of a California Standard for Teaching Profession (CSTP). Next, the focus shifts to creating clear understanding, determining the big idea, clarifying misconceptions, and developing an essential question. Once all of these are established, learning targets need to be clarified.

Stage 1 in Backward Design

Continuing the backward design model, the focus shifts in stage two to assessments. Creating a clear understanding of the assessments and the tools that will be used to assess mastery in this stage, ensures that lesson activities (stage three) are focused and do not deviate from the established goals in stage one. The highlighted words indicate Bloom’s DOK level tasks for students. DOK levels should be acknowledged as early as possible to create rigorous and engaging activities in later stages.

Stage 2 in Backward Design

Moving on to stage three in backward design, the focus shifts to daily activities. Often, educators determine their goal and dive right into daily activities. With a backwards approach, educators know exactly where to take students, and how to assess along the way. To amp up backward design even further, start with the final day of the unit (the final assessment). The unit sample shared here is a ten day unit for educators. Creating activities starting with day ten kept the focus on the end goal and caused me to shift around other activities (and even remove some components) to best meet the needs of the learners. Starting with the final day also supported formative assessments. Formative assessments are meant to drive instruction. Keeping this in mind, activities were built in following formative assessments to allow for reflections, overviews, and deeper dives in content prior to moving on to new components.

Stage 3 in Backward Design

Setting up a backward design unit is not a new process or idea, but is instead a practice that I continue to refine. Starting with the end goal in mind and creating assessments that could clearly measure learner progress toward that goal makes it easier for me to bring in Constructivist engagement activities. Daily lessons are created to prepare the student for the following day’s activities (which have already been written) and this opens the door to think creatively. As I continue to refine this practice, it is clear to me that I can allow for more inquiry based learning when I know how to guide learners each day in the unit. While backward design is time consuming, and often found to be a tedious task, there is a benefit to revisiting this practice and trying it on with a new (or challenging) unit.

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