Current research on intelligence and the brain suggests that we learn best when
we are engaged in meaningful classroom learning experiences that help us
discover and develop our strengths and talents (Silver, Strong and Perini, 1997).
It is through these learning experiences that teachers not only motivate
our quest to learn, but also foster the development of persistence and effort
that is necessary for acquiring skills, knowledge, and attitudes in sufficient
depth for us to be able to apply them in other settings. The prior knowledge
that we bring with us to a new learning situation exerts a tremendous influence
on how we interpret this new experience. In order to successfully learn new
information, we must be able to construct meaning actively and relate it to our
own lives in a meaningful way.
Using instructional strategies based on current brain research, the
teacher focuses on the learner’s understanding of content and the ability to use
the information rather than on the memorization of isolated bits of information.
The new information that the student is engaged in learning focuses on "real life"
or "authentic" tasks that require problem solving, creative thinking, and critical
thinking. This approach requires teachers to structure what is addressed
instructionally and in the curriculum around key ideas rather than try to "cover
As educators it is of the utmost importance that we recognize and nurture all
of the varied human intelligences, and all of the combinations of intelligences
in our students. Through this recognition, we can increase our students’ learning
and problem solving abilities if we increase their repertoires of problem solving
tools by actively encouraging them to use all facets of intelligence (Parry and
In light of this research, new tools and teaching methodologies have been
developed to help classroom teachers meet the needs of their students
(Wolfe and Brandt, 1998). The use of multimedia technology in the
classroom has been shown to be an extremely effective tool in addressing
the learning needs of children (Penuel, Means and Simkins, 2000; Glennan and
The Brain-Compatible Classroom
Characteristics: absence of threat, collaboration, enriched environment,
immediate feedback, meaningful content, choice/multiple intelligences,
adequate time, mastery at the application level, active learning
The Life Guidelines by which we operate: mutual respect; trustworthiness;
truthfulness; active empathetic listening; appreciation, no putdowns; positive,
encouraging, supportive interaction; safety; always do personal best
The Lifeskills: caring, responsibility, perseverance, teamwork, effort, common
The Learning Climate: teacher as creator and curator of the classroom climate
- trust, mutual respect, risk-taking, encouragement, cooperation, openness,
encouragement, free & open communication, inclusiveness, belonging,
influence, DESCA: dignity, energy/enthusiasm, self-management, community,
Understanding by Design: The Backward Design Model
"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding
of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you
better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are
always in the right direction." (Covey, 1994)
While the word "understanding" forms the basis of the backward design
model, its meaning is complex. Understanding involves sophisticated insights
and abilities, reflected in varied performances and contexts. While there are
several types of understandings, knowledge and skills do not automatically lead
to understanding. Furthermore, the presence of misunderstanding is prevalent
in new learning situations, and in order to assess understanding accurately,
evidence gained from traditional testing alone is insufficient.
Teachers are designers of curriculum and assessments. In following the
expectations outlined in the Curriculum, teachers are required to provide
meaningful learning experiences for their students and determine student needs
in order to guide their teaching. They must also determine whether the
goals of their students have been achieved.
One of the most effective curriculum designs is the "backward design"
model. This type of curriculum designing has been described as backward
because teachers traditionally start curriculum planning with interesting
activities and textbooks rather than looking at the big picture with the end
goals in mind. In the backward design model, the teacher starts with the
end, the desired results, and then derives the curriculum from the evidence
of learning called for by the expectations and the teaching needed to equip
students to perform.
This backward approach also requires that teachers determine acceptable
levels of assessment evidence as they begin to plan the unit. Common
practice indicates that teachers think about assessment at the end of the unit,
once the teaching is completed. By having teachers determine what they would
accept as evidence that students have attained the desired understanding and
proficiencies before proceeding to plan teaching and learning experiences,
enables them to remain focused on the desired results.
The backward design model is comprised of the following three stages:
I. Identify desired results
II. Determine acceptable evidence
III. Plan learning experiences and instruction
Stage I: Identify Desired Results
In the first stage, the teacher must consider both the overall and specific
expectations outlined by the Ministry of Education or the Organization
for which you work. Because of the quantity of these expectations, a
useful framework for establishing curriculum priorities is illustrated through
the image of three concentric circles...
Curricular Priorities & Assessments
Traditional quizzes and tests
Performance Tasks & Projects
The middle circle represents the field of content for the unit being taught.
Important knowledge including facts, concepts, principles and skills (processes,
strategies, and methods) are addressed in this circle. The question what should
all students know and be able to do as a result of the unit should be asked
when referring to this circle.
The outer circle represents the knowledge that the students should be familiar
with in order to complete the unit of study. The students will study this
material during the unit and use this content, but it is unlikely that it will be
emphasized beyond the unit.
The inner most circle represents the "enduring" understandings that will
anchor the unit. The term "enduring" refers to acquiring a deep understanding
of big ideas, abstract concepts, and essential questions within key curricular
areas that students will revisit throughout their school career.
Continuum of Assessment Methods
From the enduring understandings, the essential questions are determined.
Essential questions cannot be answered satisfactorily in a sentence.
Instead, they are provocative and multilayered questions that reveal the richness
and complexities of a subject. Essential questions point to the key inquiries and
the ideas of a discipline.
Stages in the Backward Design Process
The essential questions are then linked to the knowledge and skills (expectations)
of the particular unit of study.
Worth being familiar with: What do we want students to read, view, research and otherwise encounter?
Important to know & do: Mastery required at this level. Important knowledge (facts, concepts, & principles) and skills (processes, strategies, & methods).
"Enduring" understanding: What we want students to "get inside of."
Wiggins & McTighe offer four criteria, or filters, to use in selecting ideas and processes to teach for understanding.
Essential Questions; Other Types of Questions
Two frameworks are common: (1) [a] Essential Question requiring a
decision or a plan of action [b] Foundation Questions: what is … to answer
the Essential Question. (2) Why is there a problem with …? How can we solve
this problem? Which option is most likely to answer the question?
When determining the essential questions, the curriculum designer must
recognize that there are six facets of understanding.
The Six Facets of Understanding
In the Understanding by Design model, there has been developed a
multifaceted view of what makes up a mature understanding, a six-sided view
of the concept. The six facets are explanation, interpretation, application,
perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge. They are most easily summarized
by specifying the particular achievement each facet reflects.
When we truly understand we:
can explain: provide thorough, supported, and justifiable accounts of
phenomena, facts, and data
can interpret: tell meaningful stories; offer apt translations; provide
a revealing historical or personal dimension to ideas and events; make it
personal or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies, and
can apply: effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse contexts
have perspective: see and hear points of view through critical eyes and
ears; see the big picture
can empathize: find value in what others might find odd, alien, or
implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior direct experience
have self-knowledge: perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections,
and habits of mind that both shape and impede our own understanding; we
are aware of what we do not understand and why understanding is so hard (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998)
Stage II: Determine Acceptable Evidence
How will we know if students have achieved the desired results and met the
expectations? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and
proficiency? What is evidence of in-depth understanding as opposed to
superficial or naive understanding? What kinds of assessment evidence will
anchor our curricular units and thus guide our instruction?
The backward design approach encourages us to think about a unit in
terms of the collected assessment evidence needed to document and validate
that the desired learning has been achieved so that the course is not just
content to be covered or a series of learning activities. This approach
encourages teachers and curriculum planners to first think like an assessor
before designing specific units and lessons, and to consider up front
how they will determine whether students have attained the
Because understanding develops as a result of ongoing inquiry and rethinking,
the assessment of understanding should be thought of in terms of a collection
of evidence over time instead of an event, a single moment or test at the end of
The unit will be anchored by performance tasks or projects that provide
evidence that students are able to use their knowledge in context, a more
appropriate means of evoking and assessing enduring understanding. Traditional
assessments are used to round out the picture by assessing essential knowledge
and skills that contribute to the culminating performances. To think like an assessor
before designing lessons, as backward design demands, does not come naturally
or easily to many teachers. We are far more used to thinking like an activity
designer once we have a target. We easily and unconsciously jump from
Stage I to Stage III of the backward design process, from content expectations
to the design of lessons without asking ourselves if we will have the evidence we
need to assess for the desired knowledge and skills.
When planning to collect evidence of understanding, teachers should consider a range of
assessment methods. As well assessment should include a culminating performance that
demonstrates evidence of understanding of the concepts of the unit. The culminating
performance is designed using the following acronym: GRAPE
Role and situation
Product and Presentation
Evidence of Learning
Thinking like an assessor addresses two basic questions. Where should
we look to find hallmarks of understanding, and what should we look for
in determining and distinguishing degrees of understanding? We need to
consider the necessary evidence in general, the kinds of performance or
behavior indicative of understanding; and to focus on the most salient and
revealing criteria for identifying and differentiating levels or degrees of
(Source: Wiggins & McTighe, 1998, Understanding By Design)
Stage III: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction
Clearly, we want our designs to be engaging but engaging work is insufficient. The
work must also be effective, must promote maximum achievement, and must
demonstrate that students have achieved the targeted understandings. An engaging
design stimulates students to actively participate whereas an effective design includes
appropriate evidence that desired results have been achieved.
Considering what needs to be uncovered is vital when designing curriculum because
big ideas are often subtle, abstract, and not obvious. Teaching that is grounded in
textbook coverage only can leave students with a superficial grasp of key ideas and
an erroneous view of how knowledge becomes knowledge.
Students often leave school with misunderstandings about what we thought they
had learned. Just because we teach for an understanding does not mean that
students will leave without or avoid misunderstanding. The challenge is to better
anticipate misunderstandings and address them at the design stage. Student
misunderstanding will likely increase the more the ideas in question are abstract,
require prior knowledge, are counterintuitive, and are presented in summary fashion.
The purpose of ongoing assessment is to identify misconceptions and misunderstanding
before it is too late, before the unit concludes and teachers engage in summative
The WHERE acronym is used to guide teachers on where to focus their effort
Where the work is headed and the purpose
Hook students with engaging work that makes them more eager to explore key ideas
Explore the subject in depth and equip students with required knowledge and skills
to perform successfully on final tasks.
Rethink with students the big ideas; students rehearse and revise their work
Evaluate results and develop action plans through self-assessment of results
(Wiggins and McTighe, 1998)
These guidelines move teachers from thinking only about what they want to do
and need to accomplish to thinking about what students, end users of their design,
will need to achieve understanding.
The backward design approach suspends instructional planning, the development
of specific lessons and selection of teaching strategies, until the last phase of
the process. Instructional methods are selected based on the specific types of
learning needed to achieve the desired results in a unit. As curriculum designers,
we organize a sequence backward from specific tasks and expectations.
Lessons are derived from the desired results, based on building up performance
skills and knowledge. We head right up to the desired performance, even if it
has to be simplified or scaffolded. We build up performance progressively; and we
revisit the fundamentals as needed. The process is iterative [repetitive,
recurring, recycling at higher levels] rather than linear.
GRASPS – in place of GRAPE
G – GOAL -> Your goal is to create a larger than life model butterfly and
write/illustrate a book with a fiction and nonfiction section about your butterfly.
R – ROLE -> You are the teacher. Your job is to teach the preschoolers about butterflies.
A – AUDIENCE -> You WILL Invites the preschool class to come to your classroom
to learn about butterflies.
S – SITUATION -> Your challenge is to teach preschoolers about butterflies by
performing your book.
P – PRODUCT -> You will act out your book with your butterfly model.
S – STANDARDS for SUCCESS -> Your book and performance will be judged by you,
your teacher, and two of your peers using the student rubric.
Planning Instruction: Think in terms of Three Orientations to Teaching:
Transmission [one way communication such as lecture and demonstration];
Transaction [two-way communication such as questioning and discussion];
Transformation [learning by doing such as work-experience, practicum, simulation,
Think in terms of Five Orientations to Teaching: Engineering; Developmental;
Twenty Questions for the Student
1. What does X mean?
2. How can X be described?
3. What are the comp0onent parts of X?
4. How is X made or done?
5. How should X be made or done?
6. What is the essential function of X?
7. What are the causes of X?
8. What are the consequences of X?
9. What are the types of X?
10. How does X compare to Y?
11. What is the present status of X?
12. How can X be interpreted?
13. What are the facts about X?
14. How did X happen?
15. What kind of person is X?
16. What is my personal response to X?
17. What is my memory of X?
18. What is the value of X?
19. How can X be summarized?
20. What case can be made for or against X?
The big picture of a Design approach
Grant Wiggins' six levels or facets of true
understanding are that when we understand, we:
(1) Can explain, i.e., provide thorough, supported, and
justifiable accounts of phenomena, facts, and data;
(2) Can interpret, i.e., tell meaningful stories, offer apt
translations; provide a revealing historical or personal
dimension to ideas and events; make it personal or accessible
through images, anecdotes, analogies, and models;
(3) Can apply, i.e., effectively use and adapt what we know in
(4) Have perspective, i.e., see and hear points
Of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture;
(5) Can empathize, i.e., find value in what others might find
odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of
prior direct experience;
(6) Have self-knowledge, i.e., perceive the personal style,
prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape
and impede our own understanding; we are aware of what
we do not understand and why understanding is so hard.
Backward Design Model
When developing unit and lesson plans, teachers decide how student performance will be assessed.
When developing performance assessments, teachers move between thinking and working in the role
of an assessor and thinking and working in the role of an activity developer.
The Siskiyou County Office of Education (SCOE) has developed a Standards
Implementation Project to "increase the academic achievement of all students"
through the use of standards-based curriculum design (Holmes and Murphy-Shaw,
2000). To achieve their goals, SCOE promotes the use of "backwards design"
when developing lesson plans (Holmes, 2001). Wiggins and McTighe (1999) is a key
source for this process.
The first and most important aspect of backwards design is to become familiar
with the Standards for the grade level and curriculum area being taught.
The California Department of Education (CDE) has these Standards available in
*.pdf format (see CDE Standards) for five core curriculum areas.
After the standard and benchmarks have been selected, the next step is to
design an assessment that will measure the students' understanding of the
standard. You will need to decide how you are going to measure student
understanding (test or quiz, self-assessment, performance, product) of
the selected standard. Bloom's Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension,
application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) is a nice tool to use to help
design assessments or you can utilize the many "performance verbs" offered
by Wiggins and McTighe (1999) under the following categories: explanation,
interpretation, application, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge.
Once you have selected the standard and determined the acceptable
evidence that will demonstrate student achievement, then you can develop
a lesson plan that will provide students with the opportunity to reach the
desired objectives. Wiggins and McTighe (1999) utilize the "WHERE" approach
in this stage of the process.
W stands for students knowing Where they are heading, Why they are
heading there, What they know, Where they might go wrong in the process,
and What is required of them.
H stands for Hooking the students on the topic of study.
E stands for students Exploring and Experiencing ideas and being Equipped
with the necessary understanding to master the standard being taught.
R stands for providing opportunities for students to Rehearse, Revise, and
Refine their work.
E stands for student Evaluation.
The rewarding part of the process comes next with the implemation of
the lesson plan in the classroom. Any necessary changes or additions
can be incorporated into your modified lesson plan.
After students have had the opportunity to learn the selected Standard,
the students will need to be assessed to determine if they have successfully
reached the desired goal. The student assessment can also be used to modify
the original lesson plan.
GRASPS: Model – Early Childhood Example
G: Goal: Your goal is to create a larger than life model of a butterfly and
write/illustrate a book with a fiction and nonfiction section about your butterfly.
R: Role: You are the teacher. Your job is to teach the preschoolers about
A: Audience: You will invite the preschool class to come to your classroom
to learn about butterflies.
S: Situation: Your challenge is to teach preschoolers about butterflies by
performing your book.
P: Product: You will act out your book with your butterfly model.
S: Standards for Success: Your book and performance will be judged by you,
your teacher, and two of your peers using the student rubric.