Backwards planned, focused on systematic transfer of skills across assignments, units, and courses

Backwards planning, also known as backwards design, starts with designing a summative assessment (or ideally, a meaningful choice of assessments) that give(s) students rich opportunities to demonstrate independent mastery of learning outcomes. From there, the curriculum designer considers what learning experience will build the skills and knowledge students need in order to successfully show their mastery on that final assessment. Some teachers find it helpful to separate content-based outcomes (“I need to know. . . )” and skill-based outcomes (“I need to be able to do . . .”).


After determining/identifying what students must know and be able to do, a curriculum designer may design a or rubric that articulates criteria for meeting expectations and exceeding expectations, as well as not yet meeting expectations.  (It can be useful to get student feedback about the rubric, and is always a good use of time to walk through the rubric with students in detail, to create genuine shared understanding of both learning goals and criteria for success.)


From there, it becomes clearer just what learning experiences will support students’ progress toward independent mastery of the learning outcomes that are in play. 


Starting the unit plan by designing the summative assessment helps to ensure that all the parts of the unit are designed to build skills and knowledge that are relevant to the learning outcomes in play. 


However, a mastery curriculum designer considers the interplay between outcomes, learning activities, and assessments, ensuring that there is a strong connection between all components—and that the most active participants along the path to mastery are the students, by design. 


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Across NYC, the Understanding By Design system is widespread. 


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