Going backwards to move forwards.


I have often wondered how students can appear to be engaged and respond appropriately to a particular topic one day, and then the next day/week/month –  look at me perfectly blankly when I bring up the same topic for discussion. 

The blank faces and looks of confusion make me want to pull my hair out and develop a dangerous drinking habit.  It is very frustrating for teachers when students seem incapable of transferring gained information and knowledge from one class to the next class, let alone another subject or even the real world!

Bang your head just there…


As teachers we query our lesson structure, our pedagogical practice and our sanity for that matter! We wonder what is going on in the heads of our students and in our own!  

After all didn’t someone once say…


Well I am not Einstein but I am determined to make a change to my practice.  

One theory about this daily dilemma is that the curriculum and associated resources are often constructed with the focus on content rather than outcome (Fuglei, 2020).  This means that the learning outcomes of the lesson or unit of work can be missed as they were not explicitly addressed in the teaching and learning. 

This then poses the challenging question –

How do we increase the statistical probability of students achieving these learning outcomes?

The answer is… 

Backward design process, or commonly known as backward by design (Fuglei, 2020).  

The backward design process (BDP) is a strategy that focuses on the learning outcomes to be achieved by the students and then working it backwards to what the assessment criteria will be and then the pedagogical strategies that meet those needs (Ziegenfuss & LeMire, 2020).  It is the opposite of forward design that organises learning in the form of content, lessons and then exam.  Aviles & Grayson (2017) point out in forward design, student understanding and master is often misdiagnosed as the learning activities do not contain evidence of such learning.  BPD is very effective in classroom instruction as its student centered focus allows for the teaching and measuring of established learning outcomes (Ziegenfuss & LeMire, 2020).  Wiggins & McTighe (2012) cited in Aviles & Grayson (2017) point out that this student mastery can be observed and documented in discussion groups, formative and summative tasks, or anything that shows metacognitive awareness.  As comprehension and understanding is assessed throughout this process, the student is able to connect theory to applications, and this fosters knowledge acquisition, increases reflective practices and therefore becomes constructivist in nature (Ziegenfuss & LeMire, 2020).  

Aviles & Grayson (2017) indicate three roles in BPD. 

  1. Direct teaching – connecting and engaging students to the lesson. 
  2. Facilitating Learning – socratic seminars, reciprocal teaching, graphic organisers for conveying information, reflective practices
  3. Coach to student learning – provide feedback and opportunities for independent practice.  

The process of BDP makes it very conducive to education and library practices, as it requires the educator to identify the outcomes prior to planning the learning experiences and classroom resources (Gooudzward, 2019).  This means that the activities integrated into the teaching and learning are designed to meet the specified learning outcomes and the students cognitive needs(Ziegenfuss & LeMire, 2020).  Whilst BDP can be utilised in all curriculum areas, it has great value in the teaching and learning of information literacy (Ziegenfuss & LeMire, 2020; Fox & Doherty, 2012).  

Fox & Doherty (2019, p.145) point out that there are three definite stages in BPD.  

  1. Identify the results (learning outcomes, curriculum outcomes, general capabilities)
  2. Determine mode/format of evidence (Aviles & Grayson, 2017)
    1. Assessments of learning – Summative
    2. Assessments for learning – Class discussion/Socratic seminars 
    3. Assessments as learning – reflective practices/ metacognitive process 
  3. Plan teaching and learning activities that meet those needs.  


Kurt (2018) and Gooudzward (2019) both indicate that a hierarchical scale needs to be used to determine curriculum content priorities in determining which learning outcomes are crucial and which are just worth being familiar with.  Once these outcomes have been determined, assessments or evidence of learning needs to be appropriately linked to them.  

As the stages indicate, the primary focus of the BPD is on what the students learn or achieve rather than what the teacher thinks is important.  This makes BPD a student centred approach to learning, and as it requires the teacher to understand the student’s level of understanding prior to commencing the lesson.  Therefore this process aligns with the constructivist approach to education. 



Aviles, N., & Grayson, K. (2017). Backward planning – How assessment impacts teaching and learning. Intercultural Development Research Association. Resource Centre. Retrieved from https://www.idra.org/resource-center/backward-planning-assessment-impacts-teaching-learning/

Fox, B., & Doherty, J. (2012). Design to learn, learn to design: Using backward design for informational literacy instruction. Communications in Information Literacy 5 (2).   144-155. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/193813175.pdf

Fuglei M. (2020). Begin at the end: How backwards design enriches lesson planning. The Resilient Educator.  Retrieved from https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/backwards-design-lesson-planning/

Goudzwaard, M. (2019). Slides: Backward design for librarians. New England Library Instruction Group 2. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=nelig

Jensen, J., Bailey, E., Kummer, T., & Weber, K. (2017). Using backward design in education research: A research methods essay. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 18(3), pp1-6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5976040/pdf/jmbe-18-50.pdf

Kurt, S. (2018). What is backward design. Educational Technology. Teaching and Learning Resources.  Retrieved from https://educationaltechnology.net/backward-design-understanding-by-design/

NSW Department of Education. (2019). Backward design model. Teaching & Learning – Professional Learning. Retrieved from https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/teacher-quality-and-accreditation/strong-start-great-teachers/refining-practice/planning-a-sequence-of-lessons/backward-design-model

Ziegenfuss, D., & LeMire, S. (2020). Information Literacy and Instruction: Backward Design: A Must-Have Library Instructional Design Strategy for Your Pedagogical and Teaching Toolbox. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 59(2), 107-112. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/rusq.59.2.7275



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