Is Backward Design Machiavellian?

By June 18, 2018April 17th, 2019General, Uncategorized

When we design with the end in mind, everyone wins. That’s the basic idea behind backward design, right?

Some people hear that phrase, though, and think, ‘are we just teaching to the test?’ The correct answer here is an emphatic no.

How is backward design different, then?

To put it simply, when backward design is done correctly, the learning is designed so that students master the concepts and skills they are supposed to, and the corresponding assessments make sense. Students feel prepared for assessments because their learning is structured to align with them.

So how does it work?

  1. Identify course objectives and/or standards
  2. Align the final course assessment to the standards and/or course objectives
    1. Identify the learning goals needed to complete the assessment
    2. Identify scaffolding goals that will help students accomplish the learning goals
  3. Organize the learning goals and scaffolding goals into lessons and units.

Breaking Down Backward Design

Note that the first thing that is done is to identify course objectives and/or standards. So the first goal is really asking, “What do the students come away with in this course?” Once those general guidelines are identified, an assessment to test those specific outcomes is created. From the assessment items, specific goals that must be reached are identified. Then, scaffolding goals that will help a student reach those learning goals are identified. Once these goals and scaffolding goals are identified, the learning goals are organized into lessons and units.

Identifying and Eliminating Pain Points

From there on, it’s a matter of identifying where students are struggling most and working to improve the material to eliminate those pain points. One way that pain points are identified is by analyzing the data that comes out of both formative and summative assessments. Then, the curriculum team creates specialized instruction to help students master difficult concepts.

Learning to Discover, Analyze and Create

When done correctly, yes, the test or assessment is a key focus, but the learning is not limited to just how to take the test. Instead, students are taught to discover, analyze, and create. In the process, they learn the material necessary to pass an assessment, but those assessments can be as varied as the courses themselves.

To learn more about how StrongMind uses backward design to develop its award-winning digital curriculum for grades 6-12, read our interactive white paper.

Access the White Paper Here!


By Alexandria (Dria) Wiltjer

Dria is a Senior Instructional Designer at StrongMind. She taught middle and high school math for ten years before changing careers and becoming an ID. She is an avid gamer and learner. In her free time, she volunteers in youth leadership programs and plays recreational softball.

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