Backward Design


Curriculum: Design with the End in Mind

Like UDL, Understanding by Design (UbD), provides a goal-based framework for curriculum development. UbD is sometimes called Backward Design because it considers goals and assessments before designing activities.  The backward design planning process is a very good fit with UDL if we remember to consider learner variability and apply the UDL Guidelines to lessons.  Backward Design is also compatible with the “big ideas” in the redesigned BC Curriculum.

Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins developed Understanding by Design because they felt the traditional methods of educational planning focused too much on covering prescribed curriculum.  McTighe and Wiggins found that traditional planning methods led to classroom activities that did not have any long term underlying purpose and may have only contributed to superficial learning.  McTighe and Wiggins highlight the difference between knowledge and understanding.  As educators, our goal should be to help students use knowledge meaningfully.  We need to focus on facilitating understanding.  Knowing facts in order to recall them is superficial learning that can be quickly forgotten; being able to connect facts and create meaning is deeper learning or true understanding.

The Backward Design process includes three main steps:

  • Identify desired results.  What are the big ideas we want students to understand and use?
  • Determine assessment evidence.  How will we know students have understood the big ideas?
  • Plan learning experiences and instruction.  What learning activities will facilitate understanding of the big ideas?

Backward Design starts with identifying the big idea and learning goals for the unit or lesson and prioritizing them.  In the next step, assessment for each learning goal is addressed.  How will students demonstrate what they have learned not only for content recall but for understanding of concepts?  The goals and assessment measures determine the design of learning experiences and instruction to convey and transfer that understanding to the students.

For more information, see The Understanding by Design Framework white paper by McTighe and Wiggins.  Click here to view a sample UdB-designed lesson and their planning template.

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