Backward Design

Backward Design


Read for Review

If you need a refresher on backward design, read Chapter 1: Surfacing Backward Design from Small Teaching Online.

The link above goes to the e-book chapter in one of our Library databases. Let us know if you have trouble logging in to read the chapter.

Use Backward Design to Develop Your Open Pedagogy Assignment

In preparation for writing instructions for your students for the open pedagogy assignment, chose one assignment you’d like to try and use the backward design worksheet to build on your post and any notes from last session’s worksheet,

We’ll be using this worksheet in our next session.


If you have time and interest, here is a podcast episode (48 minutes) interviewing the author of Small Teaching Online, Flower Darby. This is from Tea for Teaching, an excellent podcast out of SUNY Oswego.


  1. Learning goal or outcome:

    Students will clearly connect to the skills and techniques outlined in the course outcomes.

    Students will be able to align the course outcomes with their field of study.

    Students will create opportunities for practical application within the course outcomes.

    Assessment – Open Pedagogy Assignment:

    Students will gather in groups of 3-4, per “outcome” as outlined in the syllabus. Students will create a 1-2 minute presentation, skit, video, slideshow, podcast… communicating the outcome to their peers and how it applies to various fields of study as well as career goals.

    First Exposure – Students will participate in a check in where they share one learning outcome they expect from the public speaking course.

    Activity – Students will take turns reading the learning outcomes a loud as they are articulated by the Speech, Comm and Theatre Arts Department within the syllabus. Outcomes will be projected on the screen as well as available to the students within their syllabus.

    1.) Prepare presentations for listeners.
    2.) Prepare presentations using effective delivery techniques including extemporaneous speaking, standard language, and eye contact with the audience.
    3.) Prepare presentations that locate, evaluate, select, and incorporate different forms of supporting material, including visual aids.
    4.) Demonstrate acceptable ethical standards in research and presentation of materials.
    5.) Research and organize material to support a thesis.
    6.) Listen critically and respectfully to others’ speeches.

    Content – Students will gather in groups per “outcome” as outlined in the syllabus and create a 1-2 minute presentation, skit, video, slideshow, podcast, collage… communicating the outcome to their peers and how it applies to various fields of study as well as career goals.
    Student creations will become part of the resources available on open lab as well as BB.
    Students can access and integrate “open” content as needed to facilitate understanding, connection and execution. Computers, phones, laptops and other devices can be used to access needed “open” content.
    Activity directly addresses the “outcomes” for the course and allows the students voice in identifying the outcomes, how they connect to their various fields of study and how the skills explored can be practically applied in a real world context

  2. I liked the idea of backward design. Honestly, I’ve never done it before but I am going to try it. I am thinking of trying it for my final project. In the final project, they are going to design a website. Then I can ask them to clearly think about what they want to do. what are their website’s features? how do they want to use database? and then when they become clear what is the output lookalike, then we can discuss every piece of knowledge they need to achieve their goal. I will give them the overview of how and when we are going to cover all material they need to do their project.

  3. I am starting to think of two assignments using backward design.
    1. My goals for this assignment are for students to understand some key policy concepts and be able to express them in their own words, with illustrations. I will provide students with a list of key concepts (e.g. blaming the victim, globalization, deinstitutionalization, deficit financing, insurance parity, lobbying, universal/selective welfare, street-level bureaucracy, cash/ in-kind benefits etc.) and students will have to sign up for any one of these concepts. They will then use any medium: video, audio, interviews, role play, photographs, drawings, songs, performing art etc. but not the written word to explain this concept with examples. For this assignment, I would like to exclude the written word because I have found that many students, with years of academic conditioning, will gravitate towards writing a couple of paras. These concepts are already explained in writing in their textbook so I would like to help students frame these using other media.
    2. My goals for this work-in-progress assignment are for students to: Develop a depth of understanding about any one policy issue; and using this policy issue develop a framework to understand all policies.
    I provide students with a choice of two or three policy issues which they adopt throughout the semester (e.g. poverty, civil rights, criminal justice), and also provide students potential questions to consider e.g. the history, text of the laws and any changes throughout time, funding sources, what does research say about its effectiveness, their personal experiences with this issue if any, current practice, changes in implementation over time, interviews with professionals who implement this policy, critical analysis and proposed policy alternatives, how does this policy impact other related policies etc.
    Students then explain this aspect of the policy through any means (video, audio, interviews, role play, photographs, drawings, songs, performing art, the written word etc.)

  4. I don’t think I’ve shared this yet, but here’s my sketch of a simple Backward Design worksheet on the elements of poetry.
    Learning goal or outcome: To identify, appreciate, and be able to critically reflect on the elements of poetry. (Critique in this case entails judgment.)
    Knowledge: Basic metrical concepts and terminology (here I’m coming around to the realization that memorization and recitation are good, too-often neglected things), scansion markings, rhyme schemes for basic forms (and I mean *very* basic: iambic pentameter, the sonnet, and so on).
    Skills: Performing basic scansion, recognizing figuration, deploying some terminology (feet, meter, tropes)
    Values: Being human. Understanding how linguistic expression, whether oral or written, is an ineluctable part of the human experience.
    Assessment: Scan, describe, analyze a given piece of poetry. Explain how it functions qua poetry, or how specific effects are achieved. (More advanced: comparative analysis of multiple poems; frame a judgment about how they should be understood together. Even more advanced: write an original piece, given certain constraints.)
    First exposure: What makes poetry? How would you describe it to a child? Could you write a one-sentence definition?
    Activities: Hand out sample sonnet. What makes one text poetry but not another? What would need to change? Mark up texts. What changes? What regularities do we note?
    Content: Public domain poetry packets I’ve already assembled (organized very roughly by period) as pdfs. Audio versions of same. We could potentially record our own versions as a class. My poetry packets evolve slowly from year to year, but given enough breathing room in a course I can imagine a class benefitting greatly from assembling its own (with annotations, dramatic readings, etc.).

  5. Beginning with the goal/learning outcome of having students identify differences between their assumptions and realities of policing, I would assign the following.
    Assessment: Reflective paper addressing previously held assumptions, contrasted with experiences and new knowledge that does not match those assumptions.
    First exposure: Introduction to the assignment. Identifying the time and location of a publicly held police-community council event. Background research on the specific police-community council event. Review of crime data for that particular precinct.
    Activities: Attending event with assignment questions, interacting with other participants at the event, asking questions, building rapport with public service professionals.
    Open content: Events such as police-community council events are open to the public and made known through precinct-level websites. Often these events are well-attended by police and other public service agency personnel. And frequently, public service individuals bring literature for distribution on a variety of topics in the public interest. This type of information and knowledge is distributed freely by the agencies of the government and therefore, open source and for public and student use.

  6. I am reviewing the projects or modules I planned for my students in their Spanish for heritage speakers course last semester. When we moved to distance learning many group discussions, group reflections and lectures did not occur, and I did not substitute them with other activities and I can see the gaps in the syllabus. Now, I am trying to think of other ways to guide reflections and engage in discussions asynchronously.

  7. C.B.

    I found this content very essential. Chapter 18 is Blood and a backward design thesis for this subject would be to employ medical knowledge of blood to employ clinical care relating to pathology. To evaluate progress in this outcome the learner would need to successfully demonstrate clinical prowess with patient engagement and management. This would effectively be demonstrated by video and audio record. I chose to develop an assignment using short >3 min FlipGrid videos to provide evidence of their understanding and to provide critique of two colleagues.

    1. Learning goal or outcome
    Values-In clinical practice, provide high quality care to improve patient healing
    Knowledge-Learners will demonstrate intrapersonal skills.
    Skills-Recognize, Respond, and remember pathological condtions.

    2. Assessment
    Identify primary symptoms related to pathology
    Probe for additional details to determine maladies
    Care for patient’s well being and state of mind

    3. First Exposure
    Clincal Case study in Groups
    Watch clinical practice video, develop and discuss best practices

    4. Activities and Content
    Building from the first exposure, identify teaching & learning activities to promote the learning goals and enable assignment success
    Videos on Clinical Care
    Case Studies

  8. One of the most important learning outcomes for the course I teach is the ability to hear music critically – the design, unique features, techniques used to achieve a composer’s desired effect. This is extremely difficult for students because they (usually) don’t have a large library of Classical music in their experience to provide expectation or context. So, much of the course is spent toward building this knowledge base. 

    Backward Design: We could do several shorter projects over the course of the semester, a series of deep dives into a particular feature, and use a contemporary song or piece as a comparison/companion piece. E.g. When talking about Dido’s Lament (an aria from a Baroque opera) which famously features a descending bass line which is repeated throughout the length of the song, I also play them Stand by Me, that also has a repeating bass line. I could have them try to find another example of such a piece. And, I could go beyond this to ask students to find pieces in their own listening that has such a repeating bass line.

    Similar short assignments could have students find examples of music from their own playlists that feature: (i) music that has a sense of forward rhythmic drive, with repeated rhythmic patterns (such as is common for music from the Baroque era); (ii) a very clear single-line melody, with a simple accompanimental pattern (such as is common for music from the Classical era); (iii) chromatic harmony (such as is common for the Romantic era).

    Breaking down and focussing on some key elements and having students find examples from their own experience may help solidify these concepts for them, and encourage them toward critical listening in our class borders, as well as beyond.

  9. One project I’d like to add to my semester is focused on cultural differences across the world, and how those differences affect the way a business should operate. There are many examples of business “blunders” as they expand globally because of a lack of time taken to understand translations/slang of different languages, or cultural norms and customs.

    The goal of the project would be for students to understand the necessary steps organizations should take as they translate their messaging or expand their operations.

    Students will be asked to examine an example of cultural misunderstanding on the part of a business they have either experienced themselves, or researched. They will thoroughly explain what the mistake was, how it was handled, what could have or should have been done to prevent said blunder, and what implications this may have had for the organization.

  10. Joe Heissan

    Here’s what I have so far…

    Learning goal or outcome Researching sources to support main points in a presentation and assessing their credibility and appropriateness for the purpose of the presentation.

    Knowledge Where to find credible sources through the school’s library, and elsewhere. Distinguishing between facts and opinions.

    Researching for a presentation. Formatting a bibliography.

    Open Pedagogy Assignment: Creating entries in an annotated bibliography as part of the preparation for our major informative presentation, using MLA style.

    First exposure: Choosing a topic. Maybe grouping students by larger topics that might be of interest to them. Talk with students about where we get our news. Talk with students about how we locate sources and assessing their credibility. Talk about the differences between facts and opinions. Talk about accessing The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal. Talk with students about how we use databases available through the library. Talk about creating a bibliography and an annotated bibliography. Talk with students about how we use KnightCite and other citation tools.

    Activities: Have students look through New York Times (or Guardian, or WSJ) for potential topics/items of interest to them. Have students look in/at other sources that might be familiar to them.

    Still more to do…

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