Backward Design

Probably the most widely known teachings of backward design are from the book Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Although based on the same components as the ADDIE model, it deserves separate distinction.  Backward design begins by thinking of the end in mind. What do I want students to understand and know? What would be acceptable evidence that students do understand and know? Then instructional activities and assessments can begin. Understanding by design (UbD) is a set of tools for making you ultimately more productive when creating backward design. As Wiggins and McTighe point out, "Good design, then, is not so much about gaining a few new technical skills as it is about learning to be more thoughtful and specific about our purposes and what they imply." 

Stages of Backward Design


  1. Identify the results desired (clarity about priorities)
    • What should the students know, understand, and be able to do?
    • What content is worthy of understanding?
    • What enduring understandings are desired?
  2. Determine acceptable levels of evidence (think like an assessor)
    • How will we know if students have achieved the desired results?
    • Consider up front how we will determine if students have attained the desired understandings.
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction (guide purposeful action)
    • What enabling knowledge (facts, concepts, principles) and skills (processes, procedures, strategies) will students need in order 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?

Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design. Merrill Education/ASCD. 2006.