A Journal on Backward Design for Forward Action (Grant Wiggins and Ronald Thomas, 2003) written by Sharo Dickerson
Backward Design for Forward Action is a journal article written by Grant Wiggins and Ronald S. Thomas (2003). This journal reflection demonstrates the author’s analysis and perspective on (a) understanding the design process that is crucial to curriculum development, (b) identifying the process involved in teaching and learning, (c) recognizing critical and higher order thinking skills, (d) clarity on desired goals and expectations, and (e) selecting relevant evaluation of the student learning process.
Literature Review and Discussion
Grant Wiggins and Ronald S. Thomas (2003) stated that there are two improvement initiatives that are being aimed by American schools and districts (p. 1). These initiatives include the focus on effective instructional practices; and, a deep emphasis on student performance accountability (Wiggins & Thomas, 2003, p.1). It is quite evident today that the American public school system continues to be challenged with selecting the most effective and meaningful methodological and conceptual design in delivering curriculum to students (Ornstein, Pajak, & Ornstein, 2011). Likewise, the challenges also include the misconceptions involving the belief that the presence of having more complex teaching strategies and learning theories will lead to better student academic achievement and higher quality instruction (Wiggins & Thomas, 2003).
In relation to this article, there was a book written by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005) that stated, “teachers are designers” (p. 13). It is important that teachers recognize the crucial role that they play in respect to curriculum design and development (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). As designers, teachers create curriculum that will be used as the foundation to implementing strategies and developing the full potential of students in the learning process. However, teachers have constraints in curriculum design, similar to the designers in other fields (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 13). Teachers as designers are required to follow the provided national, state, district, or institutional standards and expectations to ensure consistency across school districts and collegiate levels (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 13). One of the important elements in understanding the design process is ensuring that curriculum designers recognize and identify what students need to learn (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 14). There should be a clear understanding of the desired vision, as well as a different perspective in establishing one’s way of thinking (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 14). This also includes achieving specific results within the curriculum to evaluate student progress in relation to student academic achievement (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 14).
Critical and higher order thinking skills are better achieved when students are provided with opportunities to grasp the desired outcomes of their learning (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 15). This includes (a) understanding the curriculum goals, expectations, and purpose in achieving specific results (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 14-15, (b) determining acceptable evidence in identifying what students are expected to learn (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 17-19), and (c) implementing learning experiences and instruction in demonstrating students’ understanding of the learning process (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 17-19). In doing so, students will have more exposure towards relevant and meaningful learning experiences that will challenge them to think critically, analyze strategically, and provide feedback based on real world practices (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 15).
Public school districts have undergone many changes especially in the aspect of identifying desired goals and expectations (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 58). The ongoing challenges that public schools face have made it more difficult in deciding short term and long term goals in relation to the districts’ vision, financial priorities, academic objectives, and student achievement (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 58). In doing so, many public school districts have been driven on state mandated assessments in determining the “best” options for students, regardless of the failure or lack of success of these assessments in providing the finest learning experiences (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p.58).
According to Wiggins and McTighe (2005), genuine evaluation of student progress and academic success should be based on (a) what students need, given the desired results, and (b) what is the best time spent in and outside of the classroom, given the performance goals (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 192). This includes understanding the true nature of stumbling blocks or failures in the learning process as positive measures in obtaining feedback to shape, rethink, revise, and refine the learning experience (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 192).
Furthermore, Wiggins and Thomas (2003) explained that organization plays a key role in establishing the plan of action when it comes to implementing desired assessment strategies. There are different factors to be considered, which include: (a) a clear understanding on the alignment of standards, (b) knowledge and skills of faculty and staff, (c) campus use of funds, (d) assistance provided to students’ academic needs, (e) expectations of faculty and staff from students, (f) focus of school leadership in teaching and learning, and (g) partnerships with the school community (Wiggins & Thomas, 2003, p.4).
The different ideas presented in this journal provided evidences on the crucial role of understanding the essence and design of curriculum prior to its development and implementation (Wiggins & Thomas, 2003). It is also necessary for stakeholders to look at the big picture, particularly with regard to (a) identifying the existing school system, (b) analyzing the data at hand, and (c) utilizing the available information to reflect and evaluate decisions (Wiggins & Thomas, 2003). Today, assessments are highly used to determine academic performance and overall success. Though the author of this paper believe that assessments should not be solely based on state mandated evaluation, it will be beneficial for schools and districts to use the data from these assessments in creating appropriate plans of action to support student success (Wiggins & Thomas, 2003).
McTighe, J., & Thomas, R. (2003). Backward Design for Forward Action. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 52-55. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb03/vol60/num05/Backward-Design-for-Forward-Action.aspx
Ornstein, A., Pajak, E., & Ornstein, S. (2011). Contemporary Issues in Curriculum. (5th ed.). Upple Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2007). School By Design. (1st ed.) Alexandria, VA: Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107018.aspx
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. Understanding by Design. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. Print.
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