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Using Backwards Design

Designing Professional Learning using Backwards Design

As I continue to develop my innovation plan on blended learning to create personalized professional development, I had an opportunity to explore the Backwards Design in Wiggins and McTighe's book, Understanding by Design to design a unit within my plan. I had already used Fink's 3 column table to design the course, therefore, I knew my goals for the course.

UbD has you start with your standards and the ISTE Standards for Educators was where I looked to begin. I found the perfect standard that reflected the main purpose of my plan: Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability (Standard 5). It fit perfectly! It allowed for blended learning, student choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning opportunities, and personalized learning. Next, I worked on the understandings and essential questions I wanted my learners to pursue. From these understandings, I derived the skills and concepts that supported them. Below you will find my stage 1 portion of the UbD Template:

For stage 2 I had to determine what would be accepted as evidence of learning; what would prove they understood the concepts. I included discussions, blog topics for reflection, and the revamped lessons as the assessment evidence.

Stage 3 was the "fun" part; the daily activities/practice time. I had to determine the order in which the Learning Activities would be completed. Using Wiggins and McTighe's (2005) WHERETO, I classified the activities to ensure all the activities included key elements and considerations such as why they needed to learn, reflections, revisions, evaluating, and tailored to their needs.

Comparing the 3 Column Table and UbD Template

I'm glad I did the 3 column table first as it made me look at the big picture of the whole course. The UbD process helped me look at the small details within the big picture. The goals I designed in the 3 column table were able to be individually focused upon within the Ubd Template. I was able to combine 3 of my goals within my UbD plan. I only need to complete one or two more UbD plans to complete my course of personalized blended learning.

Both processes forced me to think of the goals for my learners before I considered assessments or learning activities. This helped me keep focused on why I was creating my innovation plan in the first place. The 3 Column Table is perfect for designing a whole course or semester, while the UbD Template is best when designing smaller more detailed units. Personally, I will continue to use the UbD when I design my one-day professional development sessions while looking at my 3 Column table to focus my thoughts on the types of sessions I will plan.

The best thing about both processes is that it makes you think about goals first, then the activities. I know for me it will help me to avoid wasting educators time by focusing on the learning opportunities I design to be authentic and purposeful for my learners, not just fun fluff.


Fink, L. D. (n.d.). A Self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design, Expanded 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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