Efficient & Effective and Easy Planning Using “Backward Design” - UNOi Internacional
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Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 8 de diciembre de 2015

Efficient & Effective and Easy Planning Using “Backward Design”

by Elaine Gallagher When I visit schools, and give a “model class” to teachers, as if they were my students, introducing them to the topic of the “new bimester”, that supposedly I’m teaching them, I am too often met with a surprise.   But, as I tell the teachers (with a smile), “Don’t worry. If you […]

by Elaine Gallagher

When I visit schools, and give a “model class” to teachers, as if they were my students, introducing them to the topic of the “new bimester”, that supposedly I’m teaching them, I am too often met with a surprise.   But, as I tell the teachers (with a smile), “Don’t worry. If you knew everything, I wouldn’t have a job.”

The surprise I find is that the teachers are planning, using the student text, (not the teacher guide platform), and they plan week-by-week, having absolutely no idea of what’s coming up in two weeks, so they tie an idea this week to something coming up in a few weeks, thus making their teaching more effective.

I found this out this school year when I gave a model class, and a teacher asked me how I knew all the things that I was presenting to them in the mock “first class” of the bimester.  I explained to her that I had reviewed the entire bimester, then built the first class of the bimester to reflect the vocabulary and major themes and concepts to be taught.

This was not an isolated case. After the teacher so kindly opened my eyes to how she was “planning”, I began to check with teachers as I gave courses in UNO schools. The discovery that week-by-week planning was NOT unusual, led me to write this article.

As much as a rebel to tradition as I am, (proudly so), I strongly support PLANNING. Teachers need to plan, need to write their plans, and need to utilize their plans. I do not believe that someone should be “checking “ the teachers’ plans. It’s a waste of administrative time, that could be better employed by actually going into the teachers’ classrooms, to see what really happening, not what’s written on a sheet of paper or on an iPad.

The UNOi program, both BE and SE, is compiled by several components: student book, teacher guide, computer programs, and games.  All of these elements work together for students to explore and understand the universal understanding in each theme. In order to plan the unit/

UNO, since its inception, uses “Backward Design” as a planning concept. It was developed by Jay McTigh and Grant Wiggins (deceased in 2015). The purpose of “Backward Design” is to integrate all the materials in UNO to ensure that students are learning the intended concept.

The Backward Design approach first identifies the universal understanding that students will learn during a unit/bimester theme. A “universal understanding” is a theme or a statement that is universally true, in any country, with culture, and during any epoch.

For example: “The future is what you make it” is a universal understanding for the bimester when middle school students read “The Giver”.

Once the teacher, prepares the bimester, to get an overall view of the material to be covered, he/she identifies “learning outcomes”. They include:

  • What do you expect the students will learn this bimester?
  • What ideas, concepts, vocabulary, critical thinking themes, grammar usage, author’s expectations in writing what the students have read…
  • How will you develop these?
  • How will you plan to reach students of different abilities and interests?

Once your learning outcomes are listed, then you develop “authentic assessments”. What are they? They are assessments that review what you actually taught…..what you focused on…what themes you developed. Most “authentic assessments”   are NOT multiple option, standardized  tests because our students do not have standardized brains.

Usually, an authentic assessment is a project, an oral presentation, an essay exam, or a combination of these, authenticating that the student actually LEARNED something during the bimester, not simply memorizing data and facts, to be regurgitated to the teacher on an exam.

Then teachers begin to plan various learning activities that reflect the skills that will be assessed.  This allows teachers to think of and create ideas of what evidence will demonstrate students’ understanding and proficiency.

There are three stages in Backward Design:

  1. The first stage is to identify desired results. Teachers ask themselves: What is the universal understanding of this theme? What are the essential questions? What’s the “Big Idea” to be taught and learned? What should students know, understand, and be able to do? What is worthy of understanding? Teachers consider their goals and think how to integrate these concepts throughout the unit.
  1. The second stage is determining acceptable evidence. Questions teachers consider: How will we know if students have achieved the desired results and met the standards? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency? Teachers think about a unit theme in terms of collecting evidence needed to document students’ learning using formative and summative assessments.
  1. The third stage is planning the learning experience and instruction. Questions teacher ponder:
  • What enabling knowledge (facts, concepts, and principles) and skills (procedures) will students need to perform effectively and achieve desired results?
  • What activities will equip students with the needed knowledge and skills?
  • What will need to be taught and coached, and how should it best be taught, in light of performance goals?
  • What materials and resources are best suited to accomplish these goals?
  • Is the overall design coherent and effective?

Teachers’ having a clear goal helps them focus their planning and guide instruction towards the intended results.

As teachers reflect on their teaching, it will allow them to identify the needs of their students and guide them through the learning process.

When a teacher plans, we need to remember that the planning is for the teacher to do his/her best. It’s not for someone to “check”, although if I were a school administrator, I would require, (solely to file in the teacher’s employment file-folder), an annual plan, presented at the end of the current school year for the next year (!!!),  and a bimester plan, as described below, submitted the last week of the previous bimester.

If administrators say this is impossible because they don’t know teachers’ assignments yet for the next year, I say… YOU, TOO, NEED TO PLAN BETTER.  Every good school needs to know by June (in the Mexican school calendar…long before summer vacation) who will be returning and what assignments teachers will have. Otherwise, quality education will elude you.

The weekly and day-to-day planning is in the hands of the teachers. It is imperative that a teacher have an annual plan…..simple, not complex, not super-specific….just a roadmap of where he/she will take students each bimester.

The bimester plan, too, needs to be general, topics, vocabulary…(not. necessarily all that’s in the book…be judicial, teachers. The book is you tool…not your dictator.

Written planning needs only 3 things to comply with Backward Design:


  • The CONCEPT is what are you going to teach? What is the Universal Understanding in the UNO book? What are the Essential Questions or the Big Idea of the bimester’s topics?
  • The PROCESS is what is the TEACHER going to do to get across the ideas of the bimester. The PROCESS should be written as verbs that are observable, based on two things: Pf all the things that COULD be taught, what MUST be taught? And the plan should list verbs: TW = Teacher Will……
  • The PRODUCT explains and expands SWBAT = Students Will Be Able To….listing the observable products of the students, including the exams/assessments the teacher expects to give at the end of the unit or bimester.

In summary, when we begin a bimester, the very first class should not even look at the book…The teacher should be prepared to give a visual , interactive class introducing the bimester lessons to the students to excite them, to interest them, to peak curiosity, and to inspire.



For additional reading about Backward by Design, we recommend http://www.arps.org/users/ms/coaches/backward%20design%20101.htm


Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.