Introduction by Tyler Wood

What is backward design?

It turns out that I have been thinking in the backward design way from the start. I was unaware there was a specific name for it, but I have always wanted to know where we were going with each lesson. Having said that, there are a lot of planning ideas I was missing or I have not developed that I am still working on implementing in my classroom. The benefits of using the backward design method will forever change the way I teach. Here are a few of the strengths and challenges of backward design as described by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in the book Understanding by Design (UbD).

Understanding - This may seem like an obvious idea that I should have known about as a teacher, but it was something I don't think I was really flushing out well enough. We all have an idea about understanding as a goal for students, but what really stood out as a benefit is how it relates to the UbD idea as a whole. We have standards and tests and other things we tend to use as a goal for showing student achievement or understanding, but "understanding is about transfer, in other words. To be truly able requires the ability to transfer what we learned to new and sometimes confusing settings" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 40). This concept is true no matter how you design a lesson or unit, that is true, but to base the goals on that, not a test or book, is the real change and key for this method. So often we are chained to a book or test as our end goal that even though we want to teach the students how to use the knowledge, it forever remains just out of reach for our lessons. UbD throws out that idea and puts transfer at the forefront of the planning process. Which leads into and lays the foundation for the next benefit.

Assessment - We know that transfer of knowledge and the ability to use the skills on foreign tasks is the goal for student learning, but how do we know when we have accomplished that? "As the logic of backward design reminds us, we are obligated to consider the assessment evidence implied by the outcomes sought, rather than thinking about assessment primarily as a means for generating grades" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 150). In other words, we need to figure out what understanding looks like and develop the evidence we need to show the students have understood, then design the assessments before the actual lessons. This seems to be the basis of the design methods name - backward. So often the summative assessments are written based on what was taught in class after designing the lessons for that first, or the tests were designed by an outside firm and is not in alignment with the learning outcomes of the students, teacher, or school. It is not just the way the assessments are thought about, but the design itself. "Understanding is revealed as transferability of core ideas, knowledge, and skill, on challenging tasks in a variety of contexts" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 153). The assessment itself must adapt to fit the evidence needed to show transfer. That means, in the case of Wiggins and McTighe, performance based assessments, rather than a traditional, ubiquitous fill-in-the-bubble test. This is something I am trying to adapt to an even larger scale mixing it with a flipped classroom by having the performance assessment be the bubble in which all the learning is done. The class can be climbing up Bloom's Taxonomy, from knowledge to evaluation (Armstrong, 2014) in many standards at once while at the same time be utilizing the knowledge in an authentic task.

Essential Questions - The first two strengths can still be overwhelming to some, but the glue that holds it all together and shapes the learning day to day is the notion that we should frame our units with essential questions. Good essential questions, that are open-ended and thought-provoking, "serve as doorways through which learners explore the key concepts, themes, theories, issues, and problems that reside within the content" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 106). Each piece of knowledge is important in some way, otherwise we wouldn't need it at all. Framing units around essential questions puts the information into context and makes it relevant for students. The words and phrases I know in Korean the best are the words and phrases I use often. Why? Because they are the words and phrases that have had the most relevance to my life. I have studied hundreds of vocabulary words I couldn't remember for the life of me. Why? Because I learned them without context off of a sheet of paper and never used them in my life. The words weren't framed in a problem or thought-provoking question where I needed to know these words for another task. Since studying this, I have been using essential questions as often as I can to frame my lessons and create more motivation for the kids to internalize the content with great results.

If these results are so great, why doesn't everyone use this method for designing lessons? There are always catches. Even though I plan to use this method, or at least an adapted version, I do see certain problems with implementing it on a larger scale. 

Collaboration - One thing that Wiggins and McTighe, and others, promote is educator collaboration. I agree with this idea "because a large body of research shows that mandatory teacher collaboration, sometimes called “professional learning communities," gets results" (Burns, 2011), but it can be a tricky task. Some veteran teachers prefer to stick with what they know and want to be lone teachers. Perhaps they want to be the hero of their own personal "Stand and Deliver" movie. However, we need to "think about what is needed for learning, not just what is comfortable for teaching" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 242).  One of those things that is good for learning is essential questions that "jump curricular bounderies" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 281), which implies collaboration with other teachers. Still some teachers remind me of a history class I took in college, the history of science, where we discussed the importance and relevance of "secret knowledge" to the scientific movement. Craftsmen, tradesmen, and artisans (before scientists were a thing) would keep their skills, recipes, tools, etc... secret in order to create job-security, essentially. Before books were common, they would write things down only to be passed on to their apprentices or off-spring. This hindered development for the whole society. This time in Europe was known as the Dark Ages, when knowledge was for the elite and controlled heavily by the governing bodies. This may seem like an extreme example, but it highlights the major downfalls in keeping your good ideas to yourself. It may seem harmless to help yourself look better than your co-workers, like only throwing a little trash in the ocean, but it contributes to an overall depletion in effective learning possibilities that help the students - the goal of teaching in the first place. It's ironic that teachers who try collaboration as a method for their students to learn are seemingly against it in practice in their own work. This is a challenge the UbD method must overcome to better plan these units. Which brings us to the next challenge.

Workload - The planning can be daunting. Thinking about doing this for every unit in every subject (I teach multiple subjects to multiple levels) seems impossible. Wiggins and McTighe want to solve this problem with collaboration (2006), but as I pointed out, that in and of itself is a challenge. How can we actually implement this planning model without collaboration? It seems like a dead end without help.

Testing Requirements - Another challenge is the very fact that many districts, schools, or even countries (in my case), rely heavily on pre-determined tests. Those high-stakes tests are the focal point for money, pride, and future success (in college or career). How can we work around the testing when the testing should be designed with the goal in mind? In a utopian world, the tests would align perfectly with the standards and be based on authentic tasks showing transfer, but we all know that is a dream model. This is a Korean focused argument, but in Korea, parents that pay for school (my school is private), don't want to waste money buying a book we don't finish. It is a common complaint that the teacher didn't finish the book, so as much as I agree with Wiggins & McTighe that we should "use the textbook as a resource, not a syllabus" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 309), in practice it is hard to follow. 

Challenges or no challenges, however, this method is useful for me. I have been working on implementing it as best as I can in my class and it has really helped me orient myself in the larger picture, rather than stumbling through a unit trying to figure out what the main points are the students need to know. This orientation, using essential questions, helps me focus discussion towards the learning goals for the class because I have the end in mind before I started. 

Click below to see standards relevant to my class unpacked to help figure out what skills and understandings the students need for achieving the classroom goals.

Unpacking the Standards


Armstrong, P. (2014). Bloom's taxonomy. Center for Teaching. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from

Burns, M. (2011, August). Teacher Collaboration Gives Schools Better Results. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Design by Tyler Wood

Grant Wiggins goes on to explain further what is different about backward design.

There is a lot to go through in the planning, design, process. I will focus on an example of how I came up with some essential questions and why I would not use the UbD method on a smaller scale by planning lessons. The backward design plan described by Wiggins and McTighe was meant for units not single lessons. 

Essential Questions

My class has been reading a pair of stories on the theme of ants. One was nonfiction and the other a folktale. There are many possibilities for generating moral essential questions here, especially cross genre.

1. Why does stepping on an ant hurt you? 

This first question follows the basics set up by Simon, the question "addresses an essential element of the subject matter or subject matters, is immediately provocative to a particular group of students, and cannot be fully addressed immediately, but will be illuminated over time, explored anew in the light of new learning" (Simon, 2002). The subject matter is addressed by focusing our attention on ants specifically (though the conversation could be expanded to insects generally). It is provocative, in my opinion, because it challanges the student to consider something so small as important which many children do not do. It tries to get the student to consider the role an ant plays in a bigger picture, one that we are a part of. The question is not easily answered right away and forces children to consider all the information laid out in the lessons and connect it to this question for analysis later. Children will have to reflect on when and why they might step on an ant and what meaning that has to a larger picture. They will consider the effects on the ants and how that can effect humans as well. They will also need to understand what ants do in order to address that concern.

2. If you were an ant, would you want to be queen?

This question is begging the question of a better life and what that means. It forces students to consider life as something else, in relation to us (which is our default comparison), and the relationship within the community of ants. This means they will have to understand the jobs ants have and what life in those jobs would entail. They would also have to consider what the queen's job is and how that life might be. They will also be struggling, I believe, with the idea that life as a human queen is generally considered a good life, but is it good to be an ant queen in the same way? This last question can be a follow up, or mid-point, question to further discussion and inquiry. This question sets up "instant immersion in questions, challenges, situations, or stories that require the student's wits, not just school knowledge" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 206). The question raises more questions instead of eliciting an easy response and those new questions are aligned directly with the content being covered in the lesson (e.g. ant jobs). This question also gets at the essential existential question of 'what is a better life?'. It might also challenge students on gender differences because there is no king ant.

3. If our society were run by ants, what would be different? What would be better? What would be worse?

This is a series of questions that relate and extend the idea. Perhaps it is too much of a mouthful, but it might get those creative juices flowing for students. They might visualize giant alien ants, but the core of the questions is working in groups. Students will need to consider how we live in groups and how ants live in groups, which is the target content to be learned. They will need to compare and contrast them, then apply that knowledge to altering our world to match what they learned about ants' society. With some guided questions along the way, this might develop into an interesting discussion about society in general and how it helps or hurts a species, like ants or us. The morality comes in by way of social changes being good or bad and why. Students should consider how the ants' changes effect people and, by way of reason, how we can also effect each other with socio-political changes, but in fourth grade terminology, of course. This is framed in the philosophical tradition of a thought experiment that challenges common held beliefs and is "poised at the boundary of the known and the unknown" (Clifford & Friesen, 2014). 

4. Ants don't say 'no' they just do what needs to be done. Why do you say 'no'?

This is a direct challenge to students and how they (we) live in a society. This will elicit an interesting discussion about roles and freedom. Ants represent absolute obedience and efficiency. The follow up question here is, how much do we care about efficiency? Are we willing to live more like ants for it? If not, then what does that mean about our values compared to ants'? What is more important to us than obedience and efficiency? This would be a question students would reconsider and analyze for a lifetime, which fits in with Simon's explanation of a moral/existential question. 

Lesson Planning in Backward Design

Wiggins and McTighe's idea in Understanding by Design is that we should not create a lesson plan based on backward design because it should be used for larger themes rooted in essential questions. "by their very nature, essential questions focus on big ideas that are typically not unit-specific. They can be properly addressed only across many units and, in some cases, years of study" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 276). This works because we have an overarching view of the curriculum and in this way would have trouble being reduced to a single lesson because of the "constant and frequent movement between element of perfomance (learning and using discrete knowledge and skill) and the whole complex task that prioritizes and justifies the learning" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 291). In other words, the scope of the UbD idea is too large to compact into a single lesson, according to the authors. If there is to be a spiral-style curriculum where there is frequent restating and adjusting to the learning, then there is not enough time in a single lesson to accomplish that effectively. This is a long-term method. It might seem logical to take the reasoning of backward design and shrink it down to each lesson - if it works for units, it should work for lessons - but there are two time constraints on the practicality of that. 1) Each lesson is too short, generally, for time to accomplish a learning goal based on essential questions because essential questions are, by nature, unable to be easily answered (like in a single lesson). 2) In order to reexamine the learning and use student feedback to scaffold the learning, the teacher would need a class between one lesson to the next to adjust. It would be nearly impossible to expect teachers to assess, gather feedback, and scaffold the learning all in one lesson. 

My UbD Lesson Plan

However, upon designing a unit plan based on backward design principles we still need to design lesson plans, so why not use the same method of starting at the goals and working backward? "This learning target, considered along with lesson based assessments of student performance, enables teachers to carefully sequence every learning experience within a lesson to reach a desired end" (Jones, Vermette & Jones, 2009). We have designed a lesson plan based on the UbD idea and it has been very difficult to shoehorn into a lesson. I think certain principles of UbD are quite useful, like starting with a learning objective and designing to it, however the overall method proposed by Wiggins and McTighe, as mentioned previously, would not work in such a small space. Does the Two-step method work? I would say, maybe. Perhaps it will work, but to me it does not seem efficient. For example, Jones, Vermette, and Jones offer an example of how it might look to design this style of lesson by having the reader order tasks from a mathematics lesson plan. One the one hand, they show that even a lesson plan can be categorized and termed in the backward design method and they make a good point that "individual lessons can become more objective based, thereby allowing sequencing of the lesson to be designed with a specific end in mind and resulting in greater competency of lesson" (Jones, Vermette & Jones, 2009) but it is not very different from lesson planning without using UbD. The strongest point they make is how the lessons fits into the bigger picture, but that is already the focus of Wiggins & McTighe's ideas, only they are focusing on the lesson level and, by default, defeating the purpose of backward design. The difference in the "two-step" method and backward design is the focus on the lessons, the micro-planning, which can hinder the macro-planning of the units because of the lack of time to adequately build to the essential question-based scope of backward design unit planning. 

If you would like to use the template I used, click below for a blank template you can print.

Blank UbD Template

Below is a table of standards I would use in my class, essential questions for those standards, and how they are relevant to learning. Click below. 

Standards, Essential Questions, and Relevance


Clifford, P. & Friesen, S. (2014). Creating essential questions. Galileo Educational Network. Retreived from

Jones, K., Vermette, P., & Jones, J. (2009, October). An integration of "backward planning" unit design with the "two-step" lesson planning framework. Education, 130, 357-360. Retrieved from

Simon, K. (2002, September). Blue blood is bad, right? Educational Leadership, 60(1), 24. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Assessments by Tyler Wood

What does assessment look like in a backward designed class?

Grant Wiggins hasn't changed his overarching ideas about assessments from his 2002 article Toward Genuine Accountability: The Case for a New State Assessment System. He still promotes the idea of building evidence of learning and having more assessments rather than a few tests a year that "provide woefully sketchy and delayed feedback, on tasks that do not reflect real achievement" (Wiggins, 2002). As he puts it in his 2006 article Healthier Testing Made Easy: The Idea of Authentic Assessment, "more 'authentic' and comprehensive forms of assessment provide not only significant gains on conventional tests but also more useful feedback" (Wiggins, 2006). His point is summed up in Understanding by Design, " Effective assessment is more like a scrapbook of mementos and pictures than a single snapshot" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 152). In other words, he remains consistent with the idea of diversity of assessments rather than high-stakes testing being the basis of grades and assessments, as many places still do today.

What has changed?

In 2002, Wiggins' "student portfolio" was a smaller and less diverse thing. It included test data from state and district tests, state-approved writing prompts, and the vague "all relevant locally-designed assessments" (Wiggins, 2002). Later, he paints a much richer picture of the diversity of assessments including "checks of understanding (such as oral questions, observations, dialogues); traditional quizzes, tests, and open-ended prompts; and performance tasks and projects. They vary in terms of scope (from simple to complex), time frame (from short- to long-term), setting (from decontexualized to authentic contexts), and structure (from highly directive to unstructured" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 152). Though the general ideas haven't changed, the specifics have become more detailed.

What should change?

In a short answer - our attitudes. I believe we have the research to back up Wiggins' ideas here. It seems pretty common sense, and research supports this, that diversifying the way we assess a student is a more effective way of determining how the student is doing. How well are they understanding content, critically thinking about real-world problems, self-assessing their learning etc... Yet, we remain hooked on high-stakes testing, especially here in Korea. I'm not sure why we can't seem to adapt to this information, but it remains the Achilles' heal for our education system. I remain tied to testing at my school, but I try and build up other methods of assessment to counteract the importance of the test. I want to flood the grading system with other types of assessment to get a better picture of the classroom. I use quick oral assessments in every class, journal writing prompts, quizzes, and technology-based critical thinking projects, among other things, to build a portfolio of learning in the class. I also encourage each student to look at and evaluate each of these assessments to grow from their mistakes, instead of just taking it home and throwing it away.

South Korea does well on international testing, does that prove that relying on high stakes testing works?

I'm not well versed in the history of Korean education but it wasn't good until awhile after the war. The 'dictator' who lead them to prosperity (and whose daughter is the current president) also built up the education system in the 1970's (Dalporto, 2014). The success of the system on international testing is a bit of a trouble subject. I've read many interpretations, but I think it's certainly not something that can be replicated in other societies well. It is very high-stakes oriented and Korea has a high student suicide rate to prove how high stakes it is. However, education remains a powerful force to better yourself and it is heavily promoted, so it remains a goal most students have been raised to have their whole lives which helps create a motivated student body. However, they mostly do well on subjects that can be memorized, like math and science, and, as is noted in Clark Sorenson's article Success and Education in South Korea, "educated Koreans often respond to questions about South Korean students' mastery of math by noting that none of the world's famous mathematicians have been East Asian." In other words, high stakes testing may work to create high test scores, but not transfer to actual success in the critical thinking skills it takes to discover something new in math, and perhaps science (though I think they have had more success in science than math). 

Having said that, it seems clear to me that relying on these tests to tell me about my students is weak at best, or completely inaccurate at worst. I don't teach something that can easily be memorized, I'm teaching a living language. Language (for fluency) can not be memorized because we need to be able to build our own sentences to communicate our own unique ideas. How can you create something new if you rely on information someone gave you alone? The tests will help me see what the kids remember about the content, and that's what I use them for, but to get a grasp of what they think, I use journal writing, class discussion (formal and informal), questions (from them and from me to them), and other small assignments and tasks that relate to the particular skill or skills we are learning. 

For more information on the South Korean education model, click below. 

Possible side-effects of the system of high-stakes testing without a focus on authentic assessment when confronted with the 'real world'.


Dalporto, D. (2014). South Korea's School Success. We Are Teachers. Retrieved from

Sorenson, C. (1994, Feb.). Success and education in South Korea. University of Washington. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (2002, Jan.) Toward genuine accountability: the case for a new state assessment system. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (2006, Apr.) Healthier testing made easy: the idea of authentic assessment. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Motivation by Tyler Wood

When it comes to learning, what motivates me is the freedom to follow what interests me without being forced into a particular track. I've always been the student who asks tangential questions related to our lesson because there is something that I found interesting, but was usually told something quickly then directed back to our book. I am motivated by the control of my learning now, I seek out my own learning. I enjoy discovering my own knowledge and not passively sitting back and having information told to me.

It appears I might be the rule not the exception, according to research on motivation by Callis (as cited on that found "students were more likely to rate themselves highly on their mathematics ability when taught by guided practice" (Huetinck & Munshin, 2008, p. 50).

According to social psychologist Tory Higgins, there are three different ways to show motivation. We are motivated by being effective (getting something accomplished), having control of the outcomes, and feeling like what we are doing is genuine or true (Sharfstein, 2012). I think these ideas fit, more or less, with what motivates me. That makes me try and create a class where my students can feel those points. I try and let them control some of the learning by giving them choices and I allow them to 'find' the answers while I help guide them instead of just giving them facts and figures.

I try to offer choice as much as I can. I don't have any qualms about offering choices, but my school curriculum sometimes can make it difficult or impossible to offer choices because we need to stay on track with other classes with the same schedule. Choices can make grading longer for a teacher, since each assignment would be different and possibly not have the same answers that one could check quickly. It may also worry teachers that they will not or can not control their class. It can also be difficult at first for students to have autonomy when they aren't used to it, especially when given a completely unguided choice. However, when a teacher has to read a paper or correct an assignment, many times (if not all the time) it makes the assignments more interesting when they are different and shows their best work because they chose something they are interested in. It also does not create chaos in the classroom, "when students understand their role as agent (the one in charge) over their feeling, thinking, and learning behaviors, they are more likely to take responsibility for their learning" (McCombs, 2014). I think it is pretty clear that the pros out-way the concerns of the cons when giving students choice to help motivate them, as long as the students are being guided and helped and given a limited amount of choice to maintain 'control' of the direction of the learning.

From my experience, though not extensive, I've found that if you ask the right questions about a topic, and keep trying different angles if the first approach fails to succeed, then the students will find something they like about the topic and find relevant to their lives. This is where guiding the conversation might help. If the teacher can hook children on something (they will have different things that hook them, of course) then the teacher can build on that and try and find a way to incorporate that into the assignment. Let the students know they will be getting a choice but also encourage them to take ownership of their work and try and make it relevant and they will take to it for the most part. The few remaining children that don't seem interested might take more work digging or they might have other issues with motivation that will take time to uncover or solve, but it will work eventually. I think some teachers quit too fast with a change like this and that is why they struggle. A little patience goes a long way here. 


Huetinck, L., Munshin, S.N. (2008). Teaching mathematics in the 21st century: methods and activities for grades 6-12. Pearson Education Inc. Retrieved from

McCombs, B. (2014). Developing responsible and autonomous learners: a key to motivating students. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Sharfstein, Eric. (2012, Feb.). Psychology professor studies science of motivation. Research: Breakthroughs in Knowledge and Ideas at Columbia. Columbia University. Retrieved at

Feedback by Tyler Wood

Without feedback we would not learn at all. If I touch a hot stove, I receive very painful feedback that teaches me not to do that again. When I tell a joke I receive laughter as feedback, if the joke was funny. If it wasn't funny, I receive blank faces that are, knowing my jokes, shaking their head in embarrassment for me. As a teacher, we must utilize that ability to learn from feedback in the same way. We must practice what we preach!

I teach a fourth grade English immersion class in Seoul, South Korea. There are many ways I would like to try and use in my class, and I am still a work in progress, but the three ways I receive feedback are based on how I run a classroom.

I try and be a guiding "more knowledgable other," as Vygotsky said in regards to his 'zone of proximal development' (Fisher & Frey, 2010). He believed that we could guide the learner to better understanding than the Socratic attempt to fill the pool by running the hose for hours on end. The first way I receive feedback that I can trust from my students is through open discussion. I simply ask questions about the learning at times when it seems obvious some of the kids are struggling. I ask them, in real time, if what I am doing is working or not. Because we have a relaxed atmosphere where I'm not the strict "Big Brother" but the teacher that is open to responses like this, I feel they are comfortable to give me honest advice. Sometimes, a little too honest, but I welcome the banter and safety that environment offers my students. The second way I receive feedback is less interactive, but a staple in teaching - the student work. Are the students showing me what I expected to see, if not then I need to consider what I am doing wrong or I can do better to make that a reality. This is especially useful in differentiation in class for the next lesson. I can use the work itself (homework and class assignments) to alter, revise, and adjust my teaching to achieve better results. The third way I can receive useful feedback is an anonymous feedback box where students can write down their feelings without concern of me or other students knowing what they said for the best possible honesty. I do not currently do this in class, but I have wanted to implement this for a little while, and I should now. I believe this will give me the extra feedback I need to try and make the class more effective. I'd like to see what the students' ideas for class are and how I can take those ideas and make them effective and engaging (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006, p. 270). 

One tool I plan on using is a technology based tool for gathering student feedback. Click the link below to check out their site.


Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2010). Chapter 1. Scaffolds for Learning: The Key to Guided Instruction. Guided Instruction. ASCD. Retreived from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Reflection by Tyler Wood

Why use the UbD model for future classroom planning?

Each of the previous sections have been laying out the research and ideas that back up the backward design concept. As mentioned in the introduction,  the backward design model actually fits right into what I have been trying to do since I started teaching, so I support this method. However, using this method for planning single lessons can be very tricky and too compact to allow of the essential questions to fulfil their duties as the framework for the unit. 

The way in which I will be using this template for design is in the very essence of how I design my curriculum. I will be implementing it in the way I see the learning, the very mindset coming into it. Once learned, this method is hard to retract upon. Once one has used the end, standard or learning objective, as the basis of planning it is rather unorthodox to try not to do that every time. When the Ancient Egyptian Imhotep first designed the pyramid there was no turning back on having a grand vision for future plans. Once architecture was born the days of throwing together mud huts without a thought of the end result was out the window. The Egyptians never looked back. This method is the very same. It is not the first time the end results were the focus of design for educational planning, but it has been a very detailed account of how that planning works based on research. 

If you are building a pyramid, what is the first thing you want to do? You want to figure out what it will look like finished. The first question one must ask is, what will my students look like 'finished'? What do I want my students to be able to do when they are done with this unit? This is oddly not thought about, especially when given a curriculum based on a book, because it has already been done. I admit following the lessons without looking too far down the line when I first started. I now really think through what I want my students to accomplish first, before anything else. 

After you have your idea of what your pyramid will look like, what is next? You will need to figure out how to create this masterpiece. How will we know if the students are 'finished'? After figuring out what you want the students to know, we have to figure out how we will know they have reached their goal. This is the next step, finding out what evidence will we need from the students. This seems very logical, but this is where pre-determined books can get in the way. As Wiggins and McTighe mention, textbooks should be a "resource that supports the desired results" (p. 231) not the curriculum. This is one of the challenges with implementing this method, as logical as it is. I will have to work around the pre-determined curriculum to attempt to reach the desired results in the class. 

The strongest part of this planning model is the framing of the units using essential questions, the laying out the building lines for your pyramid with string. I have gone into more detail previously on essential questions, but the use of an intriguing line of reasoning as the basis of the unit not only creates an easy to follow plan for the teacher so as to not get too off-topic with teachable moments, but helps build motivation for the students as well by creating a real dilemma that your learning outcomes can help them answer. It is a bit of a learning trap set by the question to draw them into the outcomes without being too strict to the day-to-day plans. I appreciate the wiggle room allowed with this method. It allows for spontaneity and creativity in designing plans. 

One thing I am happy with at my current school is the culture of sharing. The pyramids weren't built single-handedly. The collaboration in my school fits very nicely into the collaboration called for by Wiggins and McTighe for implementing the backward design model properly without too much work. We need to work smarter, not harder. Collaboration is one of the main keys for this to happen with the wonderful side-effect of lowering competition among teachers and allowing for better relationships at work which sets a good example for students. 

I mentioned the challenges to actually implementing this method in the introduction, but aside from the pragmatic challenges, I see no reason why this method is not a way we should all be teaching. Now let's built a pyramid. 

Click below for a table of some ideas for future UbD planning ideas using Common Core Standards. 

Future Planning Ideas (Google Docs)


Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.