Backward planning is a term often associated with Understanding by Design, wherein an educator must start with stating learning outcomes and assessment(s) for a unit or lesson and then plan lessons that will serve to assist students in being able to complete assessments with success, as strong connections between the two exist.
During my time at the American School of Doha, I was trained in this method, and though I understood the theory behind it, I found the planning templates weren’t the easiest to follow, as being able to directly connect assessments to lessons wasn’t obvious. This is why I chose to create this generalized modified version of the template that anyone interested in backward planning could use, regardless of whether they are following UbD to the fullest extent, as shown in the unit planner below.
As you will note when looking at the planner spaces for enduring understandings, essential questions and a few other categories have been omitted, but areas for these could always be added above the row for noting assessments. When using this unit planner, a teacher would begin by detailing what the unit is about and selecting learning outcomes that apply. From there the teacher would list all assessments that will be given during the unit, note the type (quiz, project, test …), how it serves to support the unit, and learning outcomes that will be evaluated. Once assessments have been determined, the teacher would then brainstorm outcomes that would be covered during each lesson, lesson ideas for the duration of the unit, and also explain correlation to an assessment(s), list possible materials needed and the days assessments would be given. In using this template, it is very easy for a teacher to map out with intention how each and every lesson serves to help students in demonstrating their knowledge/skills when being assessed.
Interested in using this unit planner? It can be found on our upcoming software ESBPlanners in the template section by searching for “backward planning”. Feel free to use as is or modify it to suit your needs. Stay tuned for ESBPlanners' release in 2023!
When attempting to figure out where the curriculum gaps exist at your school and why, the logical place to start is with a curriculum review to determine what outcomes teachers were able to cover during each unit and what they missed during the school year. And while this is a good place to start as it points out the obvious, one cannot overlook the teaching methods being used at the school and whether they are consistent between teachers and grade levels, as inconsistencies can also contribute to gaps in student learning. How so, you might wonder?
For starters, when students are used to learning in a certain way and they switch teachers the following year to one using a different approach(es) from the previous year, it can take several months for them to adjust. During this transitional period, new curriculum may not be fully understood as students are not only learning new subject matter, but are also having to adjust to how information is being given and what the new expectations for demonstrating learning are. As a result, learning gaps can occur as students are focusing on more than just processing curriculum content.
Not only is the transition jarring for the students, but it can also be jarring for the new teacher as they are wondering why the students are facing difficulties in their classes. This can result in the teacher feeling as though they need to slow down curriculum being taught as the students aren’t moving through outcomes fast enough. This in turn has a direct effect on the pace of the units for the rest of the year because of having to omit some curriculum as there simply wasn’t enough time to cover everything during the school year.
While curriculum reviews are helpful in determining what was missed and where the gaps are, they don’t always give the full picture as to why. By taking a deep dive into teaching methods being used at your school and ensuring that as much as possible between grades and teachers are consistent, you will be able to eliminate many of the gaps that exist. Taking things one step further, if you are truly looking to create a cohesive teaching and learning culture at your school, the following articles will guide you in doing so.
What is an Educational Framework?
A Vision vs. an Educational Framework
Designing an Educational Framework
The Power of Planners
Individualized Teacher Planners: Do They Really Work?
Different Planning Solutions for Your School
Tips for Personalizing Planners at Your School
Feeling like you could use some extra guidance? Contact us! We are happy to help you in developing the educational framework and planners that will help you in establishing a consistent approach to teaching and learning at your school.
In a prior article, The Power of Planners, I wrote about the benefits of planners that were fluid and individualized and while both of these elements are key to harnessing the power of planners, another essential factor is the connecting of planners. When creating planners for your team or school, planners are quite often seen in terms of being stand-alone, meaning that a planner is its own document, unrelated to anyone else’s. When planners are created this way, they block teachers’ ability to collaborate with one another because there’s no space allotted to do so. To truly unleash the power of planners, one must be willing to view them as puzzle pieces and look at how each one can connect to the other. And the benefits of doing so?
For starters, if you want to create a collaborative teaching culture and planners are thought of as stand-alone, then your staff hasn’t been provided with tools to do so. Though they may be ending weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the intent of planning together and sharing ideas, without having a concrete document to allow them to note information and determine next steps, the ideas discussed during the meetings become a chore to find, often being stored on shared documents in shared folders which can’t always be easily found. If each teacher had a space on their own planners to write notes, they simply refer to their own planning documents when mapping out where to take a unit next.
Not only do planners that connect allow teachers to collaborate more easily, but they also provide a clear handover outlining whose information is needed so that another teacher can plan accordingly. For example, if a foreign language teacher wanted to link their lessons to a mainstream teacher's lessons, by asking the mainstream teacher to list key vocabulary being taught on the last column of their planner and having the foreign language teacher note that vocabulary on the first column of their planner – the two teachers and subjects connect seamlessly. For further information on what this looks like and how to accomplish this, see the following articles:
Linking Teacher Planners: The Jigsaw Method
Team Planning Tools for Your School
Collaborative Teaching Planning Tools
While individualization and fluidity are key components of harnessing the power of planners, to truly empower teachers one must also factor in being able to establish connections between them. In doing so this makes all the difference in ensuring a cohesive teaching and learning culture at your school.