Understanding by Design, A Mission Towards Deriving Student Learning Outcome

Teaching is an activity to ensure students grasp the idea or concept given by the teacher in a detailed manner that it won’t be forgotten by them in the future. It is basically a student-oriented process where the emphasis should be given on the learning outcome rather than the teaching output. But in contrast, teaching has always revolved around planning lessons or developing assignments instead of looking after the necessary outcomes expected from a student.

Understanding by Design is an educational approach that has introduced Backwards Design which focuses mainly on designing curriculum keeping in mind the desired learning outcomes of students. Its moto is teaching to attain understanding which was advocated by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins in their book Understanding by Design which was published in 1998. In this approach, teachers initially plan the classroom outcomes based on that they design the pedagogical activities to foster learning among students.

Generally, the instructor’s approach is ‘forward design’ which means they prepare their lessons, develop assessments considering on how to teach the content. The ‘backwards design’ reflects on the skills and knowledge that teachers want their students to acquire once they leave the course. They should plan lessons and activities keeping in mind their strengths and weaknesses. Once the learning goals are ready, the second step is to design a curriculum framework which would target towards student understanding. Thus, backwards design is considered as a significant approach than the traditional methods.

What are the Benefits of Understanding by Design?

  1. The backwards design encourages teachers to have a purpose before taking the class. They would be more concerned about student understanding of a subject. Afterwards it would be easier for them to develop assessments around learning outcomes.

  2. This approach would lead to transparent and explicit instruction. It would reduce the possibility of doing activities just for the sake of doing it.

  3. Teaching is not only about engaging students but also to make sure that they have a thorough understanding of the subject and have necessary learning resources. The backwards design enables teachers to know the student’s cognitive level comprehensively.

Three Stages of Backwards Design

Identify the Desired Results: The first stage talks about the learning goals of a lesson or course. Before planning, the instructor should ask themselves questions like what students would like to hear from their teacher or what all skills should they master. It is important to know their relevant knowledge and skills at this primary stage. Finally, teachers should consider what all important ideas or concepts students should remember in the end.

Demonstrate classroom outcomes: The second stage involves teachers to ensure that student have performed the tasks and assessments in order to have evidence that they have achieved learning and understanding. This stage demands instructors to continuously assess students over the goals that they want them to attain.

Plan Teaching Strategies: Once the learning goals and assessment methods are established the final stage is to have a clear vision about the various teaching techniques to be applied to achieve student understanding with the necessary resources available. Teachers should analyse what are the best activities or exercises that provide them with the opportunity to perceive what has been taught in the class.

Teachers should plan out methods and strategies in favour of students for them to excel in all subjects. If the focus is given only on how to carry out teaching activity in the classroom, there would be an obstacle in witnessing development in student’s IQ level.


Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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