Why “backward” is best
Deliberate and focused instructional design requires us as teachers and curriculum writers to make an important shift in our thinking about the nature of our job. The shift involves thinking a great deal, first, about the specific learnings sought, and the evidence of such learnings, before thinking about what we, as the teacher, will do or provide in teaching and learning activities. Though considerations about what to teach and how to teach it may dominate our thinking as a matter of habit, the challenge is to focus first on the desired learnings from which appropriate teaching will logically follow.
Our lessons, units, and courses should be logically inferred from the results sought, not derived from the methods, books, and activities with which we are most comfortable. Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results. It is analogous to travel planning. Our frameworks should provide a set of itineraries deliberately designed to meet cultural goals rather than a purposeless tour of all the major sites in a foreign country. In short, the best designs derive backward from the learnings sought.
The appropriateness of this approach becomes clearer when we consider the educational purpose that is the focus of this book: understanding. We cannot say how to teach for understanding or which material and activities to use until we are quite clear about which specific understandings we are after and what such understandings look like in practice. We can best decide, as guides, what “sites” to have our student “tourists” visit and what specific “culture” they should experience in their brief time there only if we are clear about the particular understandings about the culture we want them to take home. Only by having specified the desired results can we focus on the content, methods, and activities most likely to achieve those results.