Friday, November 18, 2016


Contributed by: Mengyuan Xiao

-- Backward Design: “An approach to creating effective, learner-centered lesson plans that is the reverse of how many instructors traditionally plan to teach.[1]
-- So to understand backward design, first we need to get familiar with a “lesson plan.”
Lesson Plan: “Describes the learning process in enough detail that any instructor could see the flow of the class.[1]
Usually a lesson plan includes these six elements[1]:
• Learning outcomes for the lesson
• Materials and equipment
• Introduction (review/preview/attention grabber)
• Outline of learning activities and assessments
• Wrap-up/Summary
• Pre-class preparation/Homework
-- Backward Design is the reverse to Traditional Lesson Plan. So what is a traditional lesson plan, or how will you design a lesson plan intuitively?  In the discussion, most people showed that they would intuitively start a lesson plan by considering what knowledge or activities the instructors want to teach or conduct.  In contrast, the backward design starts with the lesson outcomes and follows this order:
Desired Learning Outcomes -> Assessments -> Activities

-- Step 1: Articulate learning outcome(s) - What should students know and be able to do?  (e.g. Students will be able to prove if an algorithm is correct.)  Learning outcomes had better be concrete, measurable and achievable by the end of a specific lesson.
-- Step 2: Assessments - What evidence will demonstrate that students are making progress towards the learning outcomes?  (e.g. Students will be able to complete an exam with word problems and short answer.)  A good way to design the assessments is to incorporate practical problem that students will encounter when they start to apply the knowledge outside of the class.  It is also important to make the feedback of assessments available to students and enable them to evaluate their class study by themselves.
-- Step 3: Activities – What exercises will help students develop the skills and knowledge needed to meet your learning outcomes?  (e.g. Students will work in teams to solve practice problems.)  Assessments and activities are sometimes interchangeable because some assessments may act as activities that prepare students for the final course assessment.
-- Step 4: Check alignment – How do the assessments and activities help students achieve the learning outcome(s)?  Learning outcomes, assessment and activities should align between each step. Pay attention to integrate these three elements.

Through discussion, we found out several benefits of backward design:
-- In the class, instructors may be distracted by students’ questions, etc. Lesson plans with backward design help instructors to focus on the lesson outcomes and the learning goals.
-- Sometimes, students get the feeling that the content in the exams are not taught in the class. Utilizing backward design makes instructors to think more critically about the reflection of learning goals through assessment and the consistent design of teaching activities.
-- Clear desired learning outcomes could be used to clearly communicate expectations to students. Students may refer to these learning outcomes to prepare for exams.

-- In addition to lesson plan, backward design could be applied to many other activities involving learning and information communication.
-- Q: Is backward design distinguishable from the traditional model when designing lesson plans?    
-- A: Yes, especially in syllabus design.

[1] The TA’s Guide to Effective Teaching at UC Davis. (


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