Forward or Backward Lesson Planning – the effective way for blended education delivery

Ever wondered why we don’t remember much of what we learned in school?

We performed well in grades but didn’t have confidence in concepts….why?

It’s probably due to the topic-driven ‘forward lesson planning’ that has been the way of education delivery for years now.

How does a traditional teacher teach?

  1. Identify a topic or content that needs to be taught.
  2. Plan a sequence of lessons/activities to teach that content.
  3. Create an assessment to measure the learning.

Unfortunately, teachers cannot guarantee student learning here as assessments fail to provide the evidence. What is the solution?

It is time to switch to backward lesson planning which is purposeful, intentional and leads to effective teaching.

Meticulous and thoughtful instructional design requires teachers to make a radical shift in their thinking and teaching : focus on the desired outcomes and the assessments, before thinking about teaching activities.

Backward design practices the second habit of highly effective people – “Begin with the end in mind”.

It flips learning activities and assessments. Teachers start off with a vision for the future – identifying the core “big ideas”/essential skills that students should gain eventually.

The three key stages in backward planning:

Stage I : Identify desired results

Create a student-centered learning objective for the given content  standard – which is clear, specific and measurable. 

    Key thoughts:

  • What knowledge and skills should students master?
  • What core ideas are worthy of ‘endured understanding’?
  • How to encourage student inquiry into the important “big” ideas?
Traditional planning is focused on the teaching aspectBackward planning is focused on student learning
What do I need to teach and how?What do my students need to learn or be able to do?

Stage II: Determine Assessment Evidence

Assessments are critical – plan effective assessments covering a wide range of evaluation methods.

Key thoughts:

  • How to ascertain that students have achieved the desired results?
  • What should I accept as evidence of understanding and content mastery?

Assessment here should not be an afterthought, just to evaluate students’ attention during lessons rather it should certify and measure students’ construction of knowledge.

Stage III: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction

With identified end-results and assessments, plan impactful learning strategies with complete clarity.

Key thoughts:    

  • What sequence of activities will help meet the desired results?
  • How to make learning both engaging andeffective?

A classroom snapshot for comparison

Goal : Develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.

TRADITIONAL PLANNINGBACKWARD PLANNING
Learning activities: A lecture or video on phases of the moon, followed by a worksheet to label the phases. An interactive activity to represent the lunar phases. Creating a physical model of the moon phases, following a sample.   Assessment : a unit test that requires labelling the phases of the moon and multiple-choice questions about the lunar cycle, eclipses, and seasons.Assessment : a student-developed model of the moon phases along with a presentation where students use that model to explain lunar phases, eclipses and seasons.   Learning activities : An introductory video on the lunar system.Experiment with a working model to experience the cycle in action. Practice explaining the lunar phases, seasons etc using an existing model – to peers. Develop your own models.Present your own models.  
The final product is a test.The final product is a model and presentation.

Does the standard require students to memorize the phases of the moon or develop a model to describe the system?

Can the test give the right evidence for learning?

With backward planning : students are constantly thinking about how to explain concepts to other people. There is a better student engagement!

IN CONCLUSION:

Backward design is an excellent approach that embeds the key elements of blended learning like open communication, analysis-driven pedagogy and critical reflection in lesson planning.

School leaders must have the required systems and processes to facilitate backward lesson planning and enable teachers to design and implement lessons and assessments that foster deep-rooted learning.

Teachers,

Critical & creative thinking will not happen automatically, planning for

critical content and strategic activities will make it happen!

  • Let learning outcomes drive your course design decisions.
  • Align your short term plans with long term goals.
  • Encourage students to self-reflect and assess themselves.
  • Offer multiple opportunities for research and inquiry
  • Foster strategic thinking and problem solving aptitude.

“In teaching students for understanding, we must grasp the key idea that we are coaches of their ability to play the ‘game’ of performing with understanding, not tellers of our understanding to them on the sidelines.”