I read an article recently that explained the power in backwards planning for students. Now, this isn’t news to me as a teacher, as great teachers have always been planning in reverse. Start with the desired outcome, project, or assessment and plan your lessons off of it. That makes a lot of sense, which is why I’ve been utilizing that practice in my teaching for years. But, what about backwards planning for students? Does that work too? According to the research cited in the article read, it does indeed work. A study was completed recently in which they had one group of students prepare for an exam or essay in the traditional forward-thinking model, while the other group utilized the planning in reverse model of preparation. What they found, which should come as no surprise to anyone, is that the group who planned in reverse, was more successful and prepared, felt better about the task, and performed better than the other group. So, backwards thinking isn’t just for teachers to utilize in the classroom; it’s a model of planning that all people should use, all of the time.
As I think about my summer plans, I’m going to put this new information to use. One of the big things I want to accomplish this summer is to plan out the first units I will cover for my new class. As I have already put together the social studies and science curricula for the fifth grade program, I feel as though this will be my first focus. So, now I will plan out, in reverse order, the first integrated unit for my new class.
I want this new unit to employ the Project-Based Learning method of creating a meaningful, engaging, challenging, and authentic learning opportunity for my students. I’ve done some research this week, including participating in my first LIVE webinar, on PBLs, and realized that I have created multiple projects over the years for my students, but never a truly effective PBL opportunity. So, I want to use what I’ve learned this week to create my first PBL unit for my new school. While I know that my first unit will be focused on community, I don’t know much more than that. So, now what?
- In reverse, the last step would be to finalize the unit after having revised it based on feedback I received from various colleagues at my new school.
- Prior to that, I would have put all of the pieces I’ve been working on together into a cohesive unit that would allow my students to demonstrate their ability to meet the learning targets I decided on at the start of this process in a meaningful and engaging manner.
- Before that, I would figure out the pacing of the unit. When would we go on our various field experiences versus in class work and learning.
- Prior to doing that, I would figure out which field experiences we would embark upon during the unit. As I’m sure that I will find many great places to visit regarding the history of Hopkinton, NH, I also know that I have limited time; thus, choosing the most meaningful and engaging ones would be an important step in the process.
- Before doing that, I would create the in-class lessons and lab experiences that the students would complete during the unit. What labs do I want the students to do to help them learn about the scientific method? How will I go about teaching those lessons?
- Before that, I would make sure that that the unit is indeed an effective PBL unit. I would make sure that it includes opportunities for authentic learning, a finished product that would be shared with others, intellectually challenging learning, chances for the students to learn project management skills, group work, and an opportunity for the students to reflect on the entire process.
- Prior to creating the lessons, I would create a skeletal outline of the unit. What do I want to cover and how do I want to do it? This part of the process will be crucial to understanding how everything else is going to come to fruition.
- Before the unit can even begin to come together, I need to determine the learning targets I am going to use. What objectives do I want to cover, and how can I transform them into student-friendly language?
- The first step in the whole process of creating this unit is the planning and research. What do I want to do? How might I put it all together? Who do I need to speak with to learn about the history of this new-to-me town? How can I create an engaging and challenging unit for my students that will allow them to complete authentic and real-world learning?
That was quite challenging. While I usually plan my units in reverse order anyway, that wasn’t the difficult part. It was hard for me to think about the steps involved in the process of getting everything together. However, it did offer me a chance to think about the entire process of constructing a new unit from a completely different perspective. I’m not sure I would have created this same list of steps if I had put them together the way I have in the past, starting at the beginning. I think I may have left out some steps if I did it in the traditional way of planning. As I worked from the finish to the start, I was forced to contemplate my process from a different angle. It was kind of cool, and super fun. As this is a new school for me, in a new town, I have much work to do this summer to learn about the history of Hopkinton, NH. I just discovered today that it was the first capital of the state. Who knew? Not me, for sure. This process is also fun and exciting, as I realize that I get to meet a whole bunch of new historians and people affiliated with the town. I get to hear new oral histories and learn a much about a new place. That really fills me with glee. I’ve already scheduled my first meeting at the Hopkinton Historical Society. Yah for me!
So, as I dig into my new PBL unit on Our Community, I’m excited to learn much, try new things, take risks, and push myself as an educator. Like I will require my students to do all year, I am going to challenge myself to be uncomfortable and put forth great effort to create the most engaging and meaningful PBL unit my new students have ever seen. Well, maybe I’m setting the bar a bit too high for now. How about I just try to do my best to create a great PBL unit on community? That sounds like a more realistic goal for now. So, off I go to learn, forward now.