Traditional curriculum planning consisted of coverage:
n Cover the curriculum map.
n Cover the unit rotation.
n Cover this title.
n We’ve got these books in the book room. We can’t afford new titles. Let’s see what we can cover with these titles.
n I need to cover my favorite unit.
The resulting curriculum guidelines did not reflect the reality of our classroom instruction. We had what Heidi Hayes Jacobs refers to as a “well-intentioned but fictional document” posing as a curriculum map, posted on our district’s homepage, packaged neatly in a template. The reality, however, we weren’t doing what we said we were doing. Everyone was covering something. No one was really on the same page.
We moved to backward planning under the directive of our principal last year.
It is now time for us to study carefully the work we do in our classrooms every day, in our subject areas. Out of our study we need to design appropriate curriculum for all learners, assuring that the curriculum is standards based, rigorous, age appropriate, anti-racist, and relevant to the learning needs of students in the 21st century.
We began at a modest level, aligning standards in our departments. However, we did this under an old 7-12 departmental structure with high school department heads supervising the process. We were overwhelmed with standards. We circled ‘round and ‘round realizing that we really couldn’t cover everything. Lists of skills and content were produced, but no real consensus as to what we really wanted kids to know and be able to do.
We broke free from the 7-12 structure this year and for the first time in our institutional history. We now have direct responsibility for supervision and curriculum within our building. Curriculum leaders, all full-time team teachers based in the middle school, are now responsible for moving backward design ahead within their departments. We can now set our own destination and figure out how we will get there. We can now use backward design to refocus and revision our curriculum.
Backward design is a process that focuses on assessment first and instructional activities last. It shifts teacher perspectives. Traditional curriculum design often begins with really interesting books or activities we want to teach or are required to cover. We then design a curriculum, often on the go and then decide on some type of assessment at the end. Backward design forces teachers to look at the big picture with the end goals in mind. In backward planning teachers set the vision or the essential understanding of their curriculum or unit, decide how students will provide evidence of their learning, and finally design instructional activities to help kids learn what is needed to be successful.
Develop a clear understanding --Oxford English Dictionary
of where you want to go.
Map out the steps to get you there.
Backward Design Stages
Action steps to refocus the conversation and re-vision an ELA program.
Stage 1: Identify Desired Results
What “enduring” understandings are desired?
What should students know, understand, and be able to
What is worth understanding?
Stage 2: Determine Acceptable
Evidence of Learning
How will we know if students have achieved the desired results and met the standards? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?
Stage 3: Design Learning Experiences
__Set the vision. Focus on the big ideas.
__Create a shared vision.
__Departmental activities to focus on:
__Standards (national, state, district)
__Determine how students demonstrate
__Focus on assessment before designing
the learning activities.
__Expand the assessment continuum.
__Plan instructional activities.
__Share best practice.
__Build in collaboration.
__Ensure success for all learners.
“I always know where I’m going as I teach, because I’ve already been there in my planning process.”
----Stacy Irvin, Highland Middle math teacher
ARMS ELA Curriculum Planning
UNIT ELEMENTS BASED ON BACKWARD DESIGN
_Backward design begins a vision of what ALL students should achieve.
_Core concepts, principles, theories, and processes that anchor curriculum.
_This is what we want students to remember.
_Students will actually understand and be able to use this long after they leave middle school.
Standards/What kids know & are able to do:
_Students demonstrate understanding throughout the unit, not just at the end.
_Allows students to be assessed in multiple ways.
_Criteria and performance standards are clearly stated and understood by all.
_Used to inform instruction.
_Assessment answers the following questions:
_How much did they learn? _How well did they learn it? _How well did we teach it?"
_Assessment helps teachers evaluate their own work, success of their curriculum design.
Activities leading to assessments:
_What prior knowledge do students need in order to be successful?
_What curriculum and instructional strategies are needed to lead the student to mastery?
_Learning is spiraled. Students revisit and reconsider ideas and skills.
_Curriculum is designed to answer the essential questions.
_Incorporate a variety of sources, more than a textbook.