Online Course-in-a-Box

Table of Contents 
Big Picture Planning
Designing with the End in Mind

Backward Design is a curriculum-planning framework that focuses on teaching for understanding. In Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe advocate for an approach to curricular design that deviates from conventional teaching habits, like trying to cover as much content as possible and assessing students when the teaching ends. Instead, Wiggins and McTighe argue that teachers should first identify what they want students to learn, and then decide on the best means to assess that understanding.

This “backward” approach to curricular design is not new, nor is it “backward” since it follows a logical and commonsensical framework for creating meaningful learning experiences. Rather, the “backward” concept denotes an approach to teaching that refocuses efforts on creating an enduring understanding. Put another way, it’s not only important for teachers to cover content, but to ask what’s worth knowing? There is so much content that could be taught, but what’s really worth understanding and what implications can this understanding have for students?

The components of a Backward Design framework include:

  1. Identifying Desired Results
  2. What should students know, understand, and be able to do?

  3. Determining Acceptable Evidence
  4. How do you know if the desired learning has been achieved? What evidence supports that learning occurred?

  5. Planning the Learning Experience and Instruction
  6. With clearly defined goals and means to assess learning, the plan of instruction can begin.


Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.