Backwards Planning, Understanding & Learning in the Classroom: Understanding by Design®

Backwards Planning, Understanding & Learning in the Classroom: Understanding by Design®

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that in a best effort to “teach for understanding”, I “teach backwards”and I love it!

This backward approach to planning and assessment was not of my own doing, but rather created by the brilliant Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.
Together these two developed the Understanding by Design® framework.

This approach to curriculum design focusses on “teaching for understanding”, the overall goal being to develop, deepen and strengthen student understanding.

This approach to curriculum design emphases “backward design”, being that in any give case the identified outcomes dictate unit planning, instruction and assessment.

& so …
If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that thanks to Wiggins & McTighe I embrace the following :

1. “Backwards Design”
2. “Teaching for Understanding”
3. “Six Facets of Understanding”

& in a nutshell – and as I understand them – they can be outlined and defined in the following way:

(A) Backward Design:
This approach to planning works in stages … three stages to be exact:

Stage 1:
what students will know and be able to show when all is said and done – “What are our desired the outcomes/end goals?” & go from there!

Stage 2: (based on the outcome of Stage 1)
Design assessment practices and activities that effectively and objectively demonstrates authentic learning in the classroom – “What can we do and how can we show/know whether we are meeting our target goals – that authentic learning – that a deepening of understanding – has taken place?… is taking place at each step/stage along the way!”

Stage 3: (based on the aforementioned)
Identifying/developing activities”“What learning activities/experiences can we introduce/share in order to strengthen student understanding ?”

(B) Teaching for Understanding
Done right – and when all is said and done – students explore and understand essential questions, big ideas, and end goals. (In order to truly understand what this all means/entails check out the links below. So cool!)

(C) According to this approach to planning and design, there are “Six Facets of Understanding
Students “demonstrate” these facets when they:
Gain/demonstrate perspective

Overall, this approach is:

  • A guide for planning classroom practices.
  • Organic – never fixed – always flexible – Lessons, activities, etc. change or remain the same depending on students’ progress, and demonstration of understanding and learning.
  • Collaborative – teachers share ideas, goals, resources, and engage in peer reflection and review (fantastic!).

& so there you have it!
My preferred approach to planning, teaching, guiding, learning, questioning, sharing, growing, etc. in the classroom!


Once again, please note that in no way is any of this of my own creation … and I am sure that there is a good deal more that I need to know and understand about the Understanding by Design® framework.
Needless to say, what I do understand to date influences me every day and in every way … This framework guides and inspires me, and is a methodology that I embrace wholeheartedly!

Important Note & useful sites:
UbD is a trademark owned by ASCD
“Authentic Education: Understanding by Design®”

See also:

5 responses to “Backwards Planning, Understanding & Learning in the Classroom: Understanding by Design®

  1. Ally, I LOVE what you’re doing here! I’ve found myself embracing some of this during the year, but not everything. By laying things out the way that you have, I can see what I’m already doing and what I need to do more. Really making the students aware of their learning, why they’re learning what they’re learning, and getting them more involved in the learning process and assessment process is fantastic! Where I’m struggling with this though is with my students that have special needs. I have seven students in my Grade 6 class that really struggle with self-assessment and with more higher-level thinking skills. How do you get ALL students, regardless of needs, involved and successful in this type of program? I’d love to learn more!


    • Hi Aviva,
      Thanks for the feedback!
      With regard to individual needs, I actually find it easier to deliver differentiated instruction following this method owing to the fact that I “work backwards” … In addition, this method embraces/includes regular review & assessment practices so I check in often(!) in order to “measure”/ensure for understanding … It’s such an organic, flexible approach that tweaks, review and repetition, and full on changes can be made – are to be made – whenever necessary … love the “permission” to be flexible and to build my units and programme based on students’ strengths and needs … there’s never a dull moment and no two years are ever truly the same.
      Love it!

  2. Thanks for the reminder about UBD. Used to focus more on that, and have written UBD units before. Realigning things in my head during vacation….urgent is not necessarily most important. “Urgent” has gotten my attention this school year…time to fix that. 🙂

  3. Hi Amy,
    Yah … funny how “urgent” can take on a life of it’s own 😉
    Hope you are enjoying the holidays! (I’m sure you are!)

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