Is Backwards Best?

“Too many teachers focus on the teaching and not the learning” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p.15).

Last week I had the challenging opportunity to create a 3 column table course design outline utilizing Fink’s (2003) backward design model. I had a somewhat difficult time keeping my ideas broad enough to implement the table properly. I am a detail person, and I really wanted to explain each step of everything that I want my students to learn, achieve, and experience. With a little practice, and a lot of patience, I was able to rework my table until I was satisfied with the outcome.

This week I experimented with Understanding By Design, or UbD , by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005). Wiggins and McTighe (2005) also implement a backwards design model; however, theirs is much different from Fink’s model.  UbD is very specific and allows you to clearly identify each step of the learning experience. I thoroughly enjoyed working with UbD,  and I am extremely excited about the new design I have developed for one of my classes I teach each semester.

Finks (2003) offers worksheets with questions, prompts, and ideas to help you think through the process. These worksheets were extremely helpful when it came time to fill in the table. This model started with broad learning goals depicting exactly what outcomes we want for our students. From these goals, I then derived activities and assessments that would help me “see” when these goals are met.

UbD also starts with goals, but then continues to break the pieces down further and further from there. The UbD template has sections to detail exactly what the students should understand, what they should be able to do, and what type of assessments will be used to measure the progress of these goals.  UbD also includes a section for us to plan out the instructional steps that we will take in order to help our students reach the end goals successfully.

Both of these models use the backward design theory. I think this practice is very important and effective in helping educators ensure they are accurately assessing the students progress in relation to the desired goals and outcomes.  If we design with the end in mind, we ensure that everything we do in class is relevant and essential to the ultimate goal we are trying to reach. In my opinion, both models are extremely valuable when used properly. I am a detail-oriented planner which leads me to a slight preference of the UbD template due to the fact that I feel more organized and capable of seeing the big picture and where we stand as a class at all times, yet it still allows for freedom to implement activities such as blog posts, which will be very beneficial with my Enhancing with E-Ports innovation plan.

Overall both systems have taught me a tremendous amount about designing a course that will set our students up for success! If we truly follow these backward design models, and always start with our desired outcomes and goals, we will eliminate those frustrating moments for the students, and moments of feeling like a failure for us when our students completely miss the mark on assessments, or even worse, our end goal. The root cause of this is normally due to the activities and lessons not being properly aligned with the assessments, and this combination not properly supporting the desired outcome or goal.  If we start with the goals first, and work back from there, we are ensuring that everything we create will support that goal!

“Only by having specified the desired results can we focus on the content, methods, and activities most likely to achieve those results” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p.15).



Fink, L.D. (2003) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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


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