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Backward Design Fundamentals

Site: Chatham University
Course: Backward Design
Book: Backward Design Fundamentals
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Wednesday, April 24, 2019, 12:56 PM

What is Backward Design?

The backward design approach consists of three general stages:

Stage 1. Identify Desired Results: GOALS

Stage 2. Determine Acceptable Evidence: PROGRESS

Stage 3. Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction: PRACTICE

This differs from a typical traditional course design as backward design flips activities and assessments:

Typical Traditional Design:
  • Goals and objectives

  • Activities

  • Assessments

Backward Design

  • Goals and objectives

  • Assessments

  • Activities


Backward design

Stage 1: Identify Desired Results

Identify Desired Results = GOALS

  • What should students know, understand, and be able to do?
  • What big ideas are worthy of understanding and implied in the established goals (e.g., content standards, curriculum objectives)?
  • What “enduring” understandings are desired?
  • What provocative questions are worth pursuing to guide student inquiry into these big ideas?
  • What specific knowledge and skills are targeted in the goals and needed for effective performance?

Stage 1: Desired Results

Established Goal(s): (G)

What relevant goals (course, program, learning, etc.) will this design address?

Understanding(s): (U)

Students will understand that...

  • What are the "big ideas?"
  • What specific understandings about them are desired?
  • What misunderstandings are predictable?

Essential Question(s): (Q)

What provocative questions will foster inquiry, understanding, and transfer of learning?


Students will know... (K)

  • What key knowledge and skills will students acquire as a result of this unit?

Students will be able to... (S)

  • What should they eventually be able to do as a result of such knowledge?

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. "Understanding by Design: Overview of UbD and The Design Template." Ed. ASCD. 2003. File last modified on Sept. 2005. PDF file.

Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence

Determine Acceptable Evidence = PROGRESS

  • How will we know if students have achieved the desired results and met the content standards?
  • How will we know that students really understand the identified big ideas?
  • What will we accept as evidence of proficiency?
 Stage 2: Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s): (T)

  • Through what authentic performance task(s) will students demonstrate the desired understandings?
  • By what criteria will "performances of understanding" be judged?

Other Evidence: (OT)

  • Through what other evidence (e.g. quizzes, tests, observations, homework, etc.) will students demonstrate achievement of the desired results?
  • How will students reflect upon and self-assess their learning?

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. "Understanding by Design: Overview of UbD and The Design Template." Ed. ASCD. 2003. File last modified on Sept. 2005. PDF file.

Stage 3: Plan Learning Experiences

Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction = PRACTICE

The backward design orientation suggests that we think about our design in terms of the collected assessment evidence needed to document and validate that the desired results of Stage 1 have been achieved.

With identified results and appropriate evidence of understanding in mind, it is now time to finalize a plan for the learning activities.

  • What will need to be taught and coached, and how should it best be taught, in light of the performance goals?
  • What sequence of activity best suits the desired results?
  • How will we make learning both engaging and effective, given the goals and needed evidence?
Stage 3: Learning Plan      

Learning Activities: (L)

W = help the students know where the unit is going and what is expected? Help the teacher
know where the students are coming from (prior knowledge, interests)?
H = hook all students and hold their interest?
E = equip students, help them experience the key ideas, and explore the issues?
R = provide opportunities to rethink and revise their understandings and work?
E = allow students to evaluate their work and its implications?
T = be tailored (personalized) to the different needs, interests, abilities of learners
O = be organized to maximize initial and sustained engagement as well as effective learning?

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. "Understanding by Design: Overview of UbD and The Design Template." Ed. ASCD. 2003. File last modified on Sept. 2005. PDF file.

Template and Examples

In order to help align your planning, consider the following graphic to guide you through your planning:


Next, download the following templates and then go to the discussion forum and response to the items posted.

Page Template (PDF)

Page Template with Design Questions (PDF)

Alignment: The Logic of Backward Design Template (PDF)

Alignment: The Logic of Backward Design Example: Westward Expansion and Pioneer Life (PDF)