Backward Design: Providing Markers Along the Way (Part 2 of 3)

In the first part of this post, I attempted to start a discussion about how to view the process of course design in such a way that it challenges your assumptions. Three valid questions must be asked and each answers the “why,” “how,” and “what” of the learning process. The first question is “what is it I hope that students will have learned, that will still be there and have value, several years after the course is over?” The answers become learning goals. Great question. It certainly wins over “how many chapters do I need to cover this semester?”

Great Western Railway Boundary Marker by Guy Butler-Madden
Great Western Railway Boundary Marker by Guy Butler-Madden

This intent of the first question is to force us as educators to wrestle with the notion of “if there are just three to four concepts or ideas that I want taken away from this classroom, what are they?” The second question moves in a backward fashion from beyond the end of the semester to the critical “doing” during the semester.

A railway marker is utilized to provide either a reference point or milestone along a railway line. From an educational perspective, I must have objective “markers” built into the semester that provide milestones to determine to what extent my students attained the goals from question one.

Question two then is “what would the students have to do to convince me that they had achieved those learning goals?” The answer to this question becomes the feedback and assessment activities that are intentionally built into a semester.

If my learning goals are the bulls-eyes of my semester, then I must be strategic in measuring to what extent my students hit the target. To simply shoot an arrow at a target does not give indication if the target was hit.

These feedback and assessment activities must be thought through in a critical manner. I should never have quizzes just because a class should have quizzes. I have quizzes because they are the best indicator in helping me as a teacher know to what level a student attained one of my learning goals. I should never have projects just because every good class must have one challenging project. I incorporate a specific project into a semester because, in my estimation, it is the best way to show me to what extent my students “got it” with regard to a learning goal.

If the learning goals from question one answer the “why” question, then the feedback and assessment activities from question two answer the “how” question. In other words, how will a student model for me that they have mastered a course goal? By the manner in which they exhibit skill and understanding in completing one of my “markers” for the course.

In my next post, I will move to the third question of Backward Design that will provide the final component of strategic classroom design.

Reflection: Have you considered the relevance of the “how” question in your own classroom? What are creative methods you implement to show you to what extent your students “get it”?


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