Backwards Design When Everything Feels Backwards.

It’s 2020, and everything is awful. I don’t need to explain why.  Education feels particularly discouraging, as we trade our back-to-school season in for zoom lectures, asynchronous activities, and lots of time alone. Educators have the difficult task of creating meaningful, effective curriculum that translates to an online format. Based off of my own Zoom university experience, it is not an easy feat, yet it is a possible one. I have had meaningful, deep connections with instructors and classmates in this new learning format. I have also had experiences that felt rushed, impersonal, and downright ineffective. With so much of the world we once knew in limbo, thinking about entering the classroom as the role of teacher feels almost impossible. This time is scary and uncomfortable, making it hard to know where exactly to start. This overall feeling of uncertainty makes for the perfect time to utilize and incorporate Wiggins and McTighe’s Backwards Design into curriculum planning.

Backwards Design places the educator in the role of designer. We curate and create our curriculum with our students in mind. Backwards Design takes the typical route of instructional planning and reverses it. For meaningful, impactful teaching, we must first ask ourselves, “what do we want our students to learn?” before even beginning to think about activities and instruction. As simple, smart, and intuitive as this approach appears, educators typically do not necessarily use this style. In all of the lesson plans I have created; I have never utilized this strategy. I have always thought of activities first, then learning goals. While interactive activities are an important part of learning, as said by Wiggins and McTighe, “How will we distinguish merely interesting learning from effective learning?” (2008). Starting with learning objectives first gives us the opportunity to structure our lessons and activities with concrete, specific ideas. This strategy feels particularly pertinent right now, when trying to construct and design effective online curriculum. Even if we don’t know how exactly where to begin lesson planning, naming specific, concrete learning goals can be a powerful starting place to frame curriculum design. When we have a clear and concise goal, the rest of the pieces will more easily and successfully fall into place.

Of course, we are not only in a period of global pandemic, but also of massive, inspiring, and timely racial protest and justice. This is of course especially pertinent with George Floyd’s murder occurring mere miles from our University campus. Now more than ever must we prepare our students to “experience academic success, develop and/or maintain cultural competence, and develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order” (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Ladson Billings’ culturally relevant pedagogy serves as a fantastic guide and point-of-reference in engaging students in ways that reflect and affirm identities, as well as meaningful and effective anti-racist instruction. One way we can engage students while giving a platform and voice to BIPOC as English educators is through literature. There are so many interesting, poignant, and meaningful young adult literature written by non-white authors. Not only will these books be more interesting than a lot of the traditional literary canon, but they will allow non-white voices to aid our instruction. The resource I included this week is a list from Social Justice Books, part of the Teaching for Change network. This list has many fantastic books written by authors from varying BIPOC identities that would be great for integrating into our literature instruction. 


  1. Hey Lizzy,

    I loved your talk about backward design and how understanding it in the midst of a pandemic and how using it during zoom classes is essential. It makes me wonder how some of our classes might be different if teacher’s used backwards design at all times, maybe classes would be more synchronous and less asynchronous? I also talked about Ladson-Billings a lot in my blog post and agree that she sets down a foundation for culturally relevant student engagement. One thing I can say, the vast majority of our zoom classes so far have been culturally relevant, so it’s good to see that our teacher’s have taken this teaching and gone with it.


  2. Hey Lizzy,

    I really loved how raw you kept it within this post. I feel that a lot of times people are sugarcoating the world we live in but I am happy you talked about the struggles with Zoom as well as not ignoring the cultural relevance of the movement we are living in with regards to racism in America as well as police brutality and how both of them intertwine. I loved that you focused on Ladson-Billings and the importance she mentions about keeping curriculum culturally relevant. Thanks for posting!


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