One of the main components to teaching complex topics is effective backwards planning. Another way to think of backwards planning is to plan with the end in mind. Learn about the three phases to backwards planning: identifying essential knowledge, planning assessments, and planning daily lessons.
- As we begin talking about our first approach to teaching complex topics, I'm going to tell you a short story about myself. I began teaching second grade in 1996, and as a new teacher, I thought every topic was complex. Seriously, I remember spending my whole weekend trying to plan fun, motivating lessons. I sat down with a mentor one afternoon to go over my lessons for the entire week. I was so proud. I had my trusty plan book with Monday through Friday completely filled with daily objectives and lots of fun activities.
My mentor started the conversation by saying, Tell me what your students will be able to do at the end of the unit. And I was thinking, end of the unit, are you kidding? I just spent 15 hours on lessons for just this week. I haven't gotten to the end of the unit yet. But my mentor wanted to know my ultimate goals for the students by the end of the unit. What new knowledge will they have, and what will they be able to do? As I mentioned earlier, teaching complex topics starts with very thorough planning.
The planning process is probably the most important and most time-consuming part of instruction. I'd like you to take a quick minute to self-reflect and think about how you plan a unit. Jot down a short list of the steps that you take in planning your unit. Write this out as a note using the integrated note-taking tool. So here's the two most common methods I've seen teachers use to plan a unit. In method one, the teacher starts by analyzing a content standard or learning goal.
From there, you begin planning your daily lessons, and then you write your summative assessment, coming up with questions based on what you taught in the lessons. In method two, you start by analyzing a content standard, but the next step is to create your summative assessment, and then you think about what daily lessons you need to teach in order for students to be successful answering the questions in the summative assessment. Notice that the biggest difference in the two approaches is the order in which you plan the summative assessment and your daily lessons.
If you're a method one planner, then you plan chronologically, like I did. But if you're a method two planner, then you are planning with the end in mind. You are starting with your end result, which is the assessment, and then working backwards to plan your unit. This is the way in which we need to plan in order to teach complex topics. So our mantra for this lesson is going to be, Start with the end in mind, or, Plan with the end in mind. Here's a fun way to think about the end in mind.
Think about how you plan for vacation. Do you work chronologically and pack your suitcase and then create your itinerary, and then decide where you're gonna go? Or, do you decide where you're gonna go, which is your end result, and then create your itinerary, and then pack your suitcase? Yes, we plan with the end in mind by first thinking about our end result and where we want to end up. This method of starting with the end in mind is also known as backwards planning, backwards mapping or backwards design.
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe pioneered this concept on backward design when they published their book, Understanding by Design. Notice that our planning begins with our end result, thinking about what we want our students to know and do at the end of the unit. This is followed by planning another end result, which is our final assessment. Once we have a clear picture of our end result, we can use this information to drive our daily instruction. Daily lesson planning is the last component in our backwards planning method because we must have a clear vision of what our students must know in order to be successful on the final assessment.
At this point we can then outline a logical progression of activities that lead students to success on their final assessment and ensure that they gain an in-depth understanding of complex topics. Teaching complex topics begins with careful and thorough planning of our units of study. Backwards planning allows us to plan with the end in mind so that our daily lessons and learning activities are completely focused on what we ultimately want students to accomplish by the end of the unit.
This leads students to successful mastery of complex topics.
Karin Hutchinson is an experienced teacher who now helps other educators find new ways to teach. She starts off this course with a quick overview of learning theory, focusing on how students gain new knowledge. These theories set the stage for Karin's framework for making learning accessible to a variety of learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic), making lessons engaging with gamification and choice, and scaffolding instruction to help guide learners who need extra help. Watch to explore strategies for planning instruction, how to respond to learners, and get resources you can put into action in the classroom today.
- Understanding what makes a topic complex
- Using a unit planner
- Writing essential questions
- Identifying what students must do
- Anticipating potential problems
- Creating assessments
- Lesson planning via UDL
- Representing information in different ways
- Engaging students
- Having students act on and express their knowledge