Backwards Planning

In preparation for a workshop this week on how to plan for and manage differentiated learning in the English classroom, I have thinking about the challenges of design by concept.

Erickson (2007) explores in great depth ways in which deep, cognitive learning must be deliberately planned for from a conceptualised viewpoint. For example, if you are to teach Macbeth, the ultimate conceptual goal is to have your students understand the power relationships, how ambition can be one’s downfall and so on.

In a neat synergy with my thinking, Dana Huff ( has recently been blogging about backward design – explored by Wiggins and McTighe in Instruction by Design – which essentially does the same thing. She has posted some really interesting resources on the UbD wiki site; one on Macbeth lists its ultimate unit goals as:

Understandings: Students will understand that…

Shakespeare’s commentary on power, corruption, and blind ambition is still relevant to our own politics today.
Things are not always as they appear.
People have often relied on superstition and frequently still do today.
Our perceptions and interpretations are based on a variety of factors.
Literature is a comment on the human condition.

I have been trying to make connections between this kind of approach to learning, and the revised curriculum. With its focus on critical thinking and the discovery of knowledge through the learning process, it seems to me that a concept-driven approach to planning learning for our students would enhance the opportunities for us to make links beyond texts, to students’ own prior knowledge, to contexts that have meaning for them, to the wider world of which they are a part…

Planning in this way gives a coherence and meaning to a unit of work, far beyond, “We are doing this because it will help you with your NCEA essay”.


Erickson, H. L. (2007). Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

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