Making Magic with Backwards Design



Thinking With The End In Mind

I’ve been participating in an online course called Digital Learning and Leading and last week I planned a course using the Integrated Course Design model by Dee Fink, "Designing A Balanced Blend".  I am now once again planning a course using “Backwards Design” and the resource I used is Understanding by Design by Grant and McTighe. The purpose of the book is a good design—of curriculum, assessment, and instruction—focused on developing and deepening understanding of important ideas. As a programmer, I can resonate with their perspective on thinking of “our design” in comparison to software. My connection of designing a course as compared to software or programming is to have a purpose, and I always plan and execute for that magic to happen. A well-designed course is similar to a well-designed website, well structured

As I was reading about planning via a “Backwards Design” for a course, it reminded me of a course I taught on Database Design. I introduced students to the course with a discussion on the purpose of a database and I used the website Zappos as an example. If I had it to do over I would probably begin with having the students research and create a brief summary of the purpose of a database.

Grant and McTighe refer to planning travel in regards to the most effective way for a curriculum to achieve results. This is a great approach, with desired results we can focus on the content to help make the connection or rather get to our destination. Sadly many teachers will rely on textbooks and focus on teaching not learning they will focus on activities that are not at the heart of effective learning.



Understanding is multidimensional and complicated there are several different types of understanding and methods of understanding. The two models identify six aspects for understanding or meeting goals.  I can see similarities and yet I see differences. Both models have Application, the ability to use knowledge effectively in new situations.  As I  examined the models I was able to match Caring to Empathy, what would it be like to walk in their shoes? Foundational Knowledge is the combination of Explanation and Interpretation.  Human Dimension is similar to Self-Knowledge. When students learn something important about their self or the way in which they learn  can sometimes give students a new understanding of themselves. Perspective is a reflection how we personally understand, which is more specific and not included in Fink's ideas.  Learning How To Learn occurs when students learn something about the process of learning itself. Finally, Integration is connecting with others, when students can see and understand the connections between different things or specific ideas.  "Learning How to Learn" and "Integration" are not in the UBD template, these ideas are more productive for a bigger broader course. 




Good design is about learning to be more thoughtful and specific about our purposes.  This is where I saw a difference in Fink's 3 column model versus the UBD template. First, it was clear upon reading the preface and prescribed chapters in the book Understanding By Design; there was a lot of thought and purpose behind the actual design of their template.  The UBD template has 3 stages that are broken down into more categories, unlike Fink's 3 column model. The UBD template suited me well.  I had to ability to see more clearly how to organize outcomes/goals, assessments and activities versus Fink's model.  The biggest difference of the two is that the UBD template included identifying  Understandings and Essential Questions, Fink's did not cover essential questions.  Identifying the essential questions helped me to connect my question "What does personalization look like in the classroom?" to what "Learners will know...." and what "Learners will be able to:." All of the pieces fell into place as I worked with this template. I had a better understanding on why the  components belonged to their categories. 



I think the UBD template will have a significant impact on my innovation for Blended Learning, simply based on the "essential questions". The essential questions will help educators reflect on where they need go and how they can get there for successful Blended Learning and positive outcomes for students. 

As I reflected on two models I decided to print them out and put them side by side. I now realize the two models combined would be best.  The reasoning behind my decision is while Fink's is not broken down into categories, it does align the goals and activities side by side.  As far analyzing a scenario for using one model over another the only thoughts that came to mind, Fink's model would be more productive for processes like building a course and the UBD focuses more on purpose, it would be useful for designing lessons within the course. 



Blended Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2016, from
Jonathon Adamich. (n.d.). Into The Abyss [CD]. Lynne Publishing.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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