43: Backwards Design Template & Standards



Stage 1 Template
Stage 1 Evaluation standards
To what extend does the design focus on the big ideas of targeted content?
  • Are the targeted understandings
    • enduring, based on transferable, big ideas at the heart of the discipline and in need of uncoverage?

    • framed by questions that spark meaningful connections, provoke genuine inquiry and deep thought, and encourage transfer?

  • Are the essential questions provocative, arguable, and likely to generate inquiry around the central ideas (rather than just a pat answer)?

  • Are appropriate goals (i.e. SWLO, content standards) identified?

  • Are valid and unit-relevant knowledge and skills identified?
Stage 2 Template
Stage 2 Evaluation Standards
To what extent do the assessments provide fair, valid, reliable and sufficient measures of the desired results?
  • Are students asked to exhibit their understanding through authentic performance tasks?

  • Are appropriate criterion-based scoring tools used to evaluate student products and performances?

  • Are various appropriate assessment formats used to provide additional evidence of learning?

  • Are the assessments used as feedback for students and teachers, as well as evaluation?

  • Are students encouraged to self assess?
Stage 3 Template
Stage 3 Evaluation Standards
To what extent is the learning plan effective and engaging?
  • Will the students know where they’re going (learning goals), why the material is important, what is required of them (unit goals, performance requirements,etc ..)

  • Will the students be hooked – engaged in digging into the big ideas (through research, inquiry, experimentation, problem solving ..)

  • Will the students have adequate opportunities to explore and experience big ideas and receive instruction to equip them for the required performance?

  • Will the students have sufficient opportunities to rethink, rehearse, revise, and refine their work based upon timely feedback?

  • Will the students have an opportunity to evaluate their work, reflect on their learning, and set goals?

  • Is the learning plan tailored and flexible to address the interests and learning styles of all students?

  • Is the learning plan organized and sequenced to maximize engagement and effectiveness?
Holistic Criteria 
To what extent is the entire unit coherent, with all the elements of all 3 stages aligned?


The Backwards Design Template and Standards summarizes all the components and criteria in the backwards design process.  This process aims to design and implement units (projects) that avoid 2 pitfalls common in traditional units: 1) hands-on without being minds-on and 2) coverage instead of uncoverage.


Phase 1 aims to guide teachers to develop a clear, prioritized picture of a unit’s learning goals.  Phase 2 aims to guide teachers to think deeply about what portfolio of assessments will count as a valid system for seeing evidence of student mastery of learning goals.  Phase 3 focuses on developing scaffolding that aligns to learning goals and assessments.


NOTE:  Although these phases are numbered, they do not always need to be completed in number order.  They key thing is that all phases are completed and well considered prior to project launch.  To see multiple orders for completing this template, based on different ideation processes, see this article.


Preparation Steps
  • Recruit teacher sounding boards who will trial this template and standards with you
  • Use this template and standards to plan projects
  • Use backwards design standards to reflect upon and to refine project template form
  • Run critical friends with other teachers that is influenced by the backwards design standards.  Refine template form as needed.
  • Gather and create resources that are outlined in completed template.
Early Implementation Processes
  • Implement project plan outlined in project template.
  • Gather notes on how well each phase is working during the project.
  • Use reflection prompts and facilitated discussions to gather more student data as to whether or not the plan is helping student stay engaged and dig deeper into their learning.
Advanced Implementation Processes
  • Use student data to plan better for remediations and to better align hooks to student interests
  • Create a simplified version, student friendly version of standards.  Show student panel your template and have them evaluate the project outline in the form using the standards.  If you don’t want to reveal the hook early, you can ask former students to serve on your evaluation panel.
  • Use simplified (or not) version of template and standards to guide students to design their own projects and independent inquiries.
  • Integrate some components from Human Centered Design into template and standards



42: Coverage vs Uncoverage





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  • coverage of surface details with little depth
  • treats all facts as discrete parts of equal value
  • teaching by mentioning
  • tends to cover up big ideas
  • Pitfalls to avoid:
    • taking textbook information at face value
    • using textbook as a syllabus
    • going through textbook in page order without regard for learning goals
    • assessing things as discrete pieces of information
  • Learn ideas by testing them in various scenarios
  • Learn ideas by using them to organize other ideas, experiences, and data
  • Helpful practices: 
    • use textbook as a tool for finding information related to essential questions and enabling skills
    • read sections of textbook in a sequence that supports learning goals
    • supplement textbook with primary sources
    • let students conduct inquiry based work that culminates in a performance assessment
    • make abstract ideas real by using them to make sense of data and/or experiences
    • use dense statements in text as basis for essential questions
Planning is not the same thing as harvesting. We promote student misunderstandings when we present knowledge as something to be apprehended as opposed to comprehended.


Teaching on its own can not produce understanding.  The learner must make active attempts to understand to develop understanding.  Only experts and highly gifted students can hear knowledge and immediately understand its meanings, applications, and implications on their own.  Teachers need to create risk-friendly environments and need to teach students to take risks while learning in order for students to conduct the tests and inquiries that build understanding.


Preparation Steps
  • Early in the year and sprinkled throughout, conduct activities that promote and improve a safe positive risk-friendly learning environment
  • Analyze ideas and skills embedded in standards.  Analyze NOUNS and VERBS in standards.
  • Brainstorm and research scenarios that students can use to test their knowledge and skills
  • Select which of the 6 facets of understanding can get students to apply knowledge and skills at another level that facilitates deeper understanding
  • Decide on a logical sequence for scaffolding and assessing learning goals
  • Find textbook excepts and primary sources that support learning goals
Early Implementation Steps
  • Teach students how to read academic texts
  • Facilitate inquiry-based activities that provide opportunities to interpret or evaluate their knowledge and skills using experiences and/or data
  • Ask students to reflect on how abstract ideas relate to their research and experiences
  • Ask students to describe how they are connecting different concepts and skills to make sense of phenomena and to solve problems
  • Give students lots of formative feedback that inform them as to whether or not their uncoverage attempts are leading to accurate understandings
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Develop criteria for coverage and uncoverage and ask students to evaluate learning activities using that criteria
  • Provide opportunities for students to use uncoverage criteria to design learning tasks they can use to explore material

41: Rubric Design & Implementation

1-sourcesChapter 8 in Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe.  Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998.  Print. 




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Types of rubrics:

  • Holistic – assign one score to performance
  • Analytic – assign multiple scores to multiple factors that evaluate performance
  • Analytic rubrics communicate more information than holistic rubrics

Rubric purposes:

  • communicate criteria for evaluating performances and products when there is no single correct answer to the challenge
  • communicate expectations to students
  • establish consistent ways to evaluate performances and products

Rubric writing suggestions:

  • develop rubrics for understanding (content) and performance quality (21st century rubrics)
  • derive criteria from targeted standards.  One method:
    • Use VERB in standard for proficient column
    • Use VERB that is a lower Bloom’s verb than standard VERB for emerging column.  Select a verb that describes an  skill that supports the development of the targeted skill.
    • Use VERB that is a higher Bloom’s verb than standard VERB for advanced column.  Select a verb that describes an enrichment task relative to criteria in proficient column
  • double check that targets align with learning targets
  • use 6 facets of understanding to develop advanced criteria
  • do not confuse “just engaging” assessments with “engaging AND valid” assessments
  • use past student work
    • divide student work into piles of similar quality
    • cluster reasons that unite piles into traits
    • write a definition for each trait
    • select samples that illustrate each trait
    • continually refine
  • rubric evaluating questions:
    • could student do well on this task without understanding key learning goals?
    • could student do poorly on this task while understanding key learning goals?

Rubric implementation tips:

  • use rubric to evaluate exemplars and provide rationales for scores
  • use rubrics to give formative feedback from teacher, self, and peers throughout the project
  • use rubric feedback to refine products



Rubric criteria are needed to evaluate responses to open-ended questions and to measure levels of understanding.  Rubric criteria help communicate clear communication expectations.  They make evaluations more clear, consistent and fair.  Designing aligned rubrics ensures that the performances we require from students demonstrate mastery of targeted standards.  Criteria can steer attention from correctness to levels of understanding.  Evaluating rubrics can help us make inferences about what students are learning.



Preparation Steps

  • Analyze NOUNS, VERBS and CONTEXTS in targeted standards.
  • If possible, analyze student work using method describe above.
  • Use analysis of student work and standards to develop rubric criteria.
  • Ask for feedback on rubric from teachers and student – check for alignment (from other teachers) and clarity (from students).

Early Implementation Steps

  • Distribute rubrics to students early in the project
  • Let students analyze rubric using tools such as Knows & Need-to-Knows charts and GRASPS – see this article for more on GRASPS
  • Use rubrics to generate teacher, self, and peer feedback that students use to improve understanding and product
  • Clarify expectations by evaluating exemplars using rubrics and providing rationales for scores and concrete tips for achieving criteria.

Advanced Implementation Steps

  • Guide students to seek out multiple exemplars and use their common traits to develop rubric criteria.   For more info on how to use models to generate rubric criteria – see this article: Models, critique, and descriptive feedback
  • Use rubrics and related tools to guide students in goal setting and tracking progress towards those goals over time



39: Essential Questions




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What are essential questions?

  • thought provoking questions that guide students to key big ideas in the discipline
  • broad questions full of many transfer opportunities
  • engaging, stimulates lively discussions
  • requires students to consider alternatives, weigh evidence, support and justify their ideas
  • naturally recur, create opportunities to transfer to other contexts and contents
Rationael for Essential Questions:
  • Essential questions are examples of important questions that can recur throughout our lives.
  • Essential questions point toward key inquiries related to big ideas in disciplines.
  • Essential questions help students investigate core concepts in the discipline.
Tips for Writing Essential Questions
  • design questions that are student friendly, thought provoking, challenging, and a priority
    • examples: How precise must we be? To what extent is DNA destiny? In what ways is algebra real and unreal? What makes writing worth reading?
  • Jeopardy method: start with unit topics and brainstorm questions
  • Use 6 facets of understanding to craft questions
  • It is OK to design essential questions that are engaging to students, but not necessarily to professionals
Tips for Implementing Essential Questions
  • Check that students understand the essential question
  • Design inquiry activities based on essential question
  • Use several, logically sequenced essential questions in one project
  • Post essential question(s) in classroom
  • Help students to personalize essential questions by sharing hunches and related personal stories
  • Allot sufficient time for unpacking essential question(s)
  • Share essential questions with other teacher to create opportunities for shared or related essential questions in multiple contents
For more information about essential questions, check out this article: Crafting driving questions.


Essential questions avoid designing curriculum with 2 pitfalls: 1) hands on, but not minds on 2) coverage instead of un-coverage.  They can inspire students to engage deeply in content.  They can frame big ideas that recur in the course.  They can be used to design curricula that treat students as potential performers, not sideline observers.  Students can learn how experts ask questions. Students can learn how to go beyond accepting facts based on faith; they learn how to accept knowledge baed on evidence. Essential questions can help students explore connections among ideas.


Essential questions can signal to students that learning is not just about finding the answer, but about learning how to learn. They provide opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery through transfer of knowledge to unique contexts.  They point towards big ideas in the disciplines.  They show that the conclusions yield by big ideas can vary due to varying contexts.  Investigating essential questions can help students focus on and uncover ideas specific to a project.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards.  Identify enduring understandings and supporting skills.
  • Design essential questions that align to enduring understandings in the standards.
  • Design activities that guide students to inquire into and investigate the essential question and related questions.
  • Post essential question(s) in classroom.
  • Ask for feedback on essential question(s) and use feedback to revise.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Communicate and discuss essential question early in the project.
  • Let students develop questions and hunches and stories that relate to essential question early in the project.
  • Let students investigate questions, hunches and stories related to essential question.
  • Use essential question as a pre-assessment and diagnostic tool at several points in the project.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Design several essential questions that frame different phases in a project.
  • Ask students to revise essential questions to make them more clear and provocative.



37: Simple Framework for Rigor





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4 Elements to Rigor:  Student are approaching material with rigor when they …

  • make meaning for themselves
    • ask students to explain content in their own words
    • ask students to explain how content can be used to solve problems in the project and in their own lives
  • impose structure on information
    • have students organize knowledge using reflection prompts and graphic organizers
    • have students compose formal and informal written pieces about content
  • combine individual skills into complex organized processes
    • ask students how skills can be used
    • ask students to use problem solving approaches to plan out steps to a solution
    • ask students to explain the steps and rationales in their solutions
  • apply knowledge to novel situations
    • create novel situations for students to apply knowledge
    • create variety of problems for students to solve


High rigor tasks have been shown to improve learning for students at all readiness levels.  For more details, see this article.  These elements for rigor highlight key elements of understanding.  For more elements related to understanding, see this article.  This simple definition for rigor can be used to evaluate a sequence of scaffolding activities to see if they allow for a variety of rigorous learning activities.


  • Use 4 elements to design project scaffolding activities and assessments that explore key learning targets
  • Evaluate project calendar activities using 4 elements and make adjustments if needed
  • Design prompts and problems that have students explore key content using 4 elements
  • Display 4 elements in classrooms
  • Implement rigorous learning activities
  • Provide specific formative feedback to students so they can regularly improve their understandings and student work
  • Use reflections to check if students are able to apply 4 elements to what they are learning
  • Teach students the 4 elements and their connection to deep learning
  • Let student use 4 elements to evaluate the quality of their learning experiences and provide feedback on projects



36: Instructional Practices that Deepen Understanding (2 of 2)




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WHERETO Framework: Framework for developing good scaffolding
  • W: How will I let students know WHAT they are learning and WHY they are learning it?  How will I communicate my expectations for the unit?
    • display driving questions, project rubrics, and exemplars in a class bulletin board
  • H: How will I HOOK and engage students in their learning? How can I connect student interests to curricular goals?
    • start projects with an interesting mystery or challenge
    • other HOOKS: counterintuitive phenomena, provocative essential questions, emotional encounters, humor, controversial issues, authentic problems, problems based on student interests
  • E: How will I EQUIP students to meet learning goals? What learning EXPERIENCES will deepen their understanding of key ideas?
    • use balance of constructivist learning experiences, structured activities and direct instruction.  See this article for simple idea for deciding which experiences go with which types of knowledge.
  • R: How will I encourage students to RETHINK prior knowledge? And also REFINE and REVISE their work?
    • use this R with difficult to understand, counterintuitive content
    • techniques: play devil’s advocate, present new info, conduct debates, regular self assessment
    • use prompts to encourage self-assessment:
      • what are you most proud of? most disappointed in?
      • how does your preferred learning style influence … ?
      • how will you make use of what you’ve learned?
      • for more ideas, see this article
  • E: How will we EVALUATE student learning and student work?
    • 5 minute paper – what have we concluded? what remains unanswered or unresolved?
    • attach self assessment to each product
    • 1 minute paper at end of workshop – what was learned? what is confusing?
    • train students how to use rubrics to self assess to plan next steps
    • start class with burning questions from 1 minute papers and debrief at end of class to check if questions were answered
  • T: How can we TAILOR learning activities to match students’ interests, learning profiles and readiness levels?
    • See all blog articles under the Differentiation tag
    • Use diagnostic and pre-assessments to identify student needs
    • Cluster student needs and design scaffolding for these
    • Give students some CHOICE in their scaffolding and products
  • O: How will learning experiences be ORGANIZED or sequenced?
    • Introduce the HOOK early and revisit often
    • Teach enabling skills when they are needed to make sense of a problem
    • Revisit the WHY often
    • Cycle between learning-doing-reflecting
    • Cycle between whole-part-whole
    • Use 6 facets to design scaffolding that deepens understanding
  • W  – Communicating end goals and essential questions can help students organize knowledge. Student can better organize their own learning when they are aware of the overarching ideas and goals of the project.  Students are more likely to produce high quality work when expectations and models are communicated early in the project.
  • H – Engaging topics help students apply knowledge in novel contexts.  Education should be an itch, not a scratch.
  • E – Building enabling skills in the context of complex tasks will build relevance for those skills and enable students co create better products.
  • R – Big ideas need to reconsidered and big understandings must be refined over time.
  • E – Building self assessment skills can improve products and develop student independence.
  • T – Tailoring to specific learner needs can make learning more accessible to more students.  Tailoring to specific interests can make learning more engaging.  Identifying and resolving learning gaps can make learners more able to solve complex problems.
  • O – Organizing in ways that use cycles gives students opportunities to grasp and re-grasp new material.  Resisting the urge to frontload information and reserving instruction for just-in-time moments will create more willing learners.
Preparation Steps
  • Use WHERETO framework to design and evaluate scaffolding, assessments, driving questions, and project calendars
  • Use WHERETO framework to refine project prior to launching it
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement project – identify, observe and document learning events that fit in the WHERETO framework (or missed the mark)
  • Used WHERETO evaluations to finetune scaffolding
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Design and implement a WHERETO graphic organizer that students can use to evaluate projects
  • Design and implement a similar WHERETO graphic organizer that students can use to evaluate their own collaboration and project work

35: Instructional Practices for Deepening Understanding (1 of 2)


Chapter 7 in Tomlinson, Carol A., and Jay McTighe.  Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2006. Print.




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  1. Use Essential Questions in Teaching
    • use essential (driving) questions to launch projects and revisit throughout the project
    • make questions provocative and student friendly
    • make questions point toward key understandings
    • Examples:
      • Math: Can everything be quantified?
      • Science: To what extent are science and common sense related?
      • Bio: How are form and function connected in the natural world?
    • Can use essential question as an open-ended pre-assessment at start of a project
    • Can use essential question as a diagnostic question throughout the project
    • Less is more – 1 to 5 essential questions per unit
    • Help students personalize the questions
    • Post essential questions in the classroom
  2. Use 6 Facets of Understanding as Instructional Tools: Use 6 facets of understanding to generate activities to explore content
    • 1 – Explain: demonstrate, derive, describe, design, exhibit, express, induce, instruct, justify, model, predict, prove, show, synthesize, teach
    • 2 – Interpret: analogies, critique, document, evaluate, illustrate, judge, make meaning of, make sense of, metaphors, read between the lines, represent, tell a story of, translate
    • 3 – Apply: adapt, build, create, debug, decide, design, exhibit, invent, perform, produce, propose, test, use
    • 4 – Perspective: analyze, argue, compare, constrast, criticize, infer
    • 5 – Empathy: assume role of, believe, be like, be open to, consider, imagine, relate, role-play
    • 6 – Self-knowledge: be aware of, realize, recognize, reflect, self-assess 
Exploring essential questions models how knowledge is made.  This contradicts the common misconception that knowledge was not made; it always existed.  Essential questions answer the WHY question for why knowledge and skills are important.


The six facets allow students to explore knowledge and deepen understanding in a variety of ways.  Ladders are false metaphors for learning.  The brain needs both higher order and lower order thinking skills to make sense and meaning of new material.  Lower order skills don’t always need to be presented first (example: we learned how to speak before we learned grammar).


Preparation Steps
  • Design provocative essential question(s) that are student friendly and open enough to serve as a pre-assessment and diagnostic tool
  • Post essential (driving) question(s) in the classroom
  • Decide what facets of understanding will be used to explore each learning target
  • Use verbs above (and research) to design activities that use several facets to explore learning
  • Use 6 facets to design and evaluate product rubrics.  See 6 facets question stems and 6 facets scaffolding ideas articles.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use essential question as an early journal prompt to pre-assess student perceptions and knowledge related to the project
  • Guide students to generate many questions related to essential questions and research these
  • Use essential question at strategic points in project to assess how student knowledge is progressing
  • Implement learning activities that are aligned to standards and leverage several facets of understanding
  • Use frequent formative assessments to give students specific feedback that they use to improve learning and products and to fine tune instruction.  See article on descriptive feedback.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students 6 facets and use it as a framework for students to design learning tasks that demonstrate their mastery of learning targets (these activities can replace re-tests)
  • Teach students to use 6 facets of understanding to reflect on their own learning and to explain which facets are helping them make a stronger deeper connections to learning targets



31: Core Beliefs Connecting Curricula to Student Diversity




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All students should consistently experience curricula rooted in the important ideas of a discipline that requires them to make meaning of information and think at high levels
  • All students develop products that apply knowledge of core ideas
  • Differentiate for enabling skills that help students understand core ideas and skills
Students need opportunities to learn the basics and opportunities to apply them in meaningful ways
  • Communicate connections between basic and complicated applications
  • Do not deny any students the opportunity to use their skills to play the game inherent in the discipline
There is a need for balance between student construction of meaning and teacher guides.
  • Play 3 roles as needed:
    1. Direct instructor – for teaching simple concepts
    2. Facilitator – for teaching deeper understandings of core concepts
    3. Coach – for teaching skills
  • Guide student reflections on how they are progressing towards enduring understandings
Students need to know the learning goals of a unit or lesson and criteria for successfully demonstrating proficiency with goals.
  • Share learning goals and rubrics early in lessons and early in projects
  • Students regularly reflect on how what they are doing relates to big goals
Research has shown that both high and low performing students benefit from classes that use meaning-driven, thought-based, application-focused curricula.  Applications of ideas give meaningful contexts for knowledge and skills.  Students must make meaning for themselves, it can not be imposed on them.  Having students construct meaning will enhance their ability to learn new content.  Students need a framework of goals and expectations to help them prioritize their ideas and goals.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards – identify related key understandings, enabling skills, and misconceptions
  • Design and implement pre-assessments that assess student knowledge, skills, and misconceptions related to learning goals
  • Interpret pre-assesment data in order to develop remediation and advanced learning activities (if needed)
  • Design project contexts that create meaningful ways for students to apply core and foundational knowledge and skills
  • Develop project rubric prior to launch
  • Determine types of learning that will occur in workshops and the appropriate teacher roles that go with these learning targets.  Design lessons that match the learning goals and the teacher roles that makes the most sense.
Preliminary Implementation Steps
  • Share the rubric early in the project and facilitate an activity that has students develop knows, need-to-knows and next steps that tie to the rubric
  • Implement workshops acting as direct instructor, facilitator, and coach depending on the types of learning targets
  • Use formative assessments frequently to provide specific feedback that students use to improve their products and learning and that teachers use to improve scaffolding
  • Design activities and tools that make connections between foundational and core skills explicit and clear to students
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Develop and implement tools that students regularly reflect on how their completed tasks relate to their understanding of big learning goals
  • Engage with classroom dialogues that use student input to create and refine project rubrics

26: Responsive Teaching





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Factors that create Student Variance:
  • Biological factors:
    • can cause students to learn in different modes on different timelines,
    • some learning parameters are malleable depends on context and level of support
  • Degree of privilege:
    • students who come from low SES face more school challenges
    • quality of students’ support and breadth of experience affects learning
  • Positioning for learning:
    • parents who value education influence student learning and cultivate soft skills (trust, confidence, positive interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence) that positively impact student learning
  • Preferences:
    • students’ interests vary across subjects and topics,
    • preferences affect how students take in knowledge,
    • students will relate to different teachers differently
Benefits of Responsive Teaching:
  • Positive student teacher relationships make it easier for students to take risks in the service of learning
  • Positive learning environments help students navigate through the successes and failures inherent in learning
  • Positive learning environments promote positive academic mindets such as  confidence, sense of contribution, autonomy, and accomplishment
  • Attending to students’ needs builds bridges between learners and important content
  • Adjusting pacing to meet students’ varied readiness helps students learn
  • Attending to students’ interests connects content to students’ curiosity
  • Attending to varied learning modes helps students use their preferred modes to learn more efficiently
Basic Responsive Teaching Approaches:
  • Find ways to get to know students better – call on students by name, using journaling to learning more about students’ feelings and interests
  • Use regular small group instruction
  • Teach to the high end of rigor – all learners benefit from learning complex ideas and complex thinking patterns
  • Use regular formative assessments to monitor understanding, give feedback, and fine-tune instruction
  • Teach in multiple ways
  • Allow working alone and with peers
  • Use clear rubrics that describe high quality work
  • Offer more ways to explore and express learning
  • Cultivate a taste for diversity – save problems in multiple ways, explore multiple points of view, etc.
  • Use basic reading strategies throughout the curriculum
Helpful Guiding Questions
  • Whom am I preparing to teach?
  • How can my knowledge of my students affect my curriculum design?
  • How can I help particular students find themselves in the world of what I am about to teach?
  • How might I teach in ways that best reveal the power of design to individuals?
  • How can I learn more about my students?
  • How can I ensure that all students have full access to the power of this design in accordance with their needs?


3-sowhatPBL contexts offer many opportunities to differentiate instruction: they already involve complex thinking and have many places for short group instruction.  Developing a deliberate and effective approach to responsive teaching can help ALL students be successful in projects.


Preparation Steps
  • Research and implement activities that will identify the variance in students’ interests, learning modes, communication styles, etc.
  • Research multiple ways to teach content
  • Develop clear rubrics that describe high quality work prior to starting projects
  • Try to develop project contexts that consider students’ interests
  • Research and implement activities and routines that develop and maintain a positive learning culture
  • Allow student voice and choice to influence their products
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use project self-pacing, to get students to naturally attend workshops in small groups that match their current need-to-knows
  • Teach content and solve problems in multiple ways
  • Use rubric check-ins and feedback during guided practice to give students regular, specific feedback that can help them improve their understanding and products
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students about their preferred learning modes, their strengths and challenges, and ways to leverage these modes to learn more efficiently
  • Allow student choice to create variety in the problem solving modes and points of view they apply to create project products
  • Make regular attempts to get to know students deeper.  Use reflections on activities and projects to learn more about how these connect to students’ learning modes and interests, etc.



22: Explicit Instruction


Chapter 1 in Archer, Anita L., and Charles A. Hughes. Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching. New York: Guilford, 2011. Print.



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Explicit: direct, unambiguous teaching approach
  • series of scaffolds
  • clear statements of purpose and rationale for learning a new skill
  • clear explanations & demonstrations of target
  • supported practice with feedback until mastery is achieved
  • Small chunks
  • Checks for understanding
  • Active participation of ALL students
Elements of Explicit Instruction
  • Focus on critical contents
  • Sequence logically: simple -> hard, familiar -> new, foundational -> advanced, separate easily confused skills
  • Break down complex skills into smaller instructional units (chunking)
  • Design organized focused lessons
  • Lessons start with clear statements of lesson goals and expectations
  • Review prior knowledge prior to main instruction
  • Step-by-step demos
  • Clear concise language
  • Provide examples & non-examples
  • Require fréquent student responses
  • Monitor student performance closely
  • Provide specific feedback
  • Deliver lesson at a brisk pace
  • Help students organize knowledge
  • Provide distributed and cumulative practice (practice old and new skills to help with retention)
6 Teaching Functions
  1. Review previous homework and prerequisite skills
  2. Presentation: chunk new material, modeling, example/non-examples, avoid digressions, be clear
  3. Guided practice: require high frequency responses, ensure high rates of success, provide timely feedback, continue practice until fluent
  4. Corrections & feedback (and reteach if needed)
  5. Independent practice: monitor early attempts, practice till automatic
  6. Weekly/monthly reviews
Underlying Principles of Explicit Instruction
  • Optimize time on task
  • Promote high levels of success
  • Increase content coverage
  • Cooperative learning
  • Scaffold instruction
  • Address different forms of knowledge
    • declarative – facts
    • procedural – how something is done
    • conditional – when/where to use skill
How to ensure high levels of success:
  • material is not too difficult given their current skills
  • clear presentations
  • modeling of skills and strategies
  • supported practice
  • active participation
  • careful monitoring of student responses
  • timely corrective feedback
Content coverage:
  • Identify highly leveraged content:
    • commonly used skills
    • well connected ideas
    • generalizable skills and ideas
Cooperative grouping
  • homogeneous
  • small
  • leverage homogeneous groups to deliver workshops attuned to different groups needs
Scaffolding tips:
  • chunking
  • logical sequencing
  • progress gradually in complexity
  • demo / model
  • use cues: thinking sheets (small sheets with problem solving steps), checklists


The explicit instruction model can be used to develop clear, well-chunked scaffolding activities that clearly tie to students’ need-to-knows and learning targets.  The combination of clear modeling, logical sequencing, differentiation through grouping, guided practice, and frequent timely feedback could help develop content fluency for ALL students.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards.  Identify skills that are highly leveraged (used often, generalizable to many contexts)
  • Design short lessons that are logically sequenced
  • Design assessments and assessment practices that allow students to get frequent timely feedback
Early Implementation Steps
  • Start lessons by explaining why learning targets are worth knowing
  • Start lessons with students’ related prior knowledge
  • Be clear and concise during workshops
  • Provide a lot of feedback to all students during guided practice
  • Provide enough practice opportunities for students to become fluent in skills
  • Use cumulative practice approach – practice old and new skills in order to develop fluency
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Have student reflect and provide evidence that they have achieved mastery in learning targets
  • Differentiate workshops to match learning needs of different student groups
  • Use peer feedback to increase frequency of supportive, corrective feedback on guided practice