In November 2005, I was given the opportunity to teach graduate school classes at a well-respected university. I was handed a syllabus and textbooks so that I could prepare my classes. While I was excited about the opportunity and did as much reading and preparation that I knew how, I now realize that I was grossly under-prepared and likely completely disorganized. Being appointed as adjunct faculty was a career goal that I achieved – not because I knew how to teach – but because I was able to demonstrate proficiency in the subject matter. In retrospect, I think that my students received the best instruction I could have given, but I know it could have been much better had I understood concepts related to instructional design.
Steven Covey, the illustrious author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explains to us in his second habit, that we should “Begin with the End in Mind.” According to Covey:
Habit 2 is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint… If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize what you want, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default… Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each task or project with a clear vision of your desired direction.
While this guiding principle can apply to many aspects of life, a key to sexuality educator’s success in facilitating classes or trainings is taking the time for thoughtful and targeted curriculum and lesson design. Beginning with the end in mind, allows us to be thoughtful about what we expect students to learn as well as the nature of assessments that will be used to demonstrate if objectives have been met. Instructional objectives detail what we want students to be able to know, understand and do by the end of the instructional period. Using this framework, teachers and students are more able to focus on the specific goals. According to Estes et. al., clearly defined objectives allows lessons to be focused and challenging rather than serendipitous and shallow.
Backward design allows educators to develop a road map for the student and teacher alike. In traditional curriculum planning, a list of content that will be taught is created and/or selected. In backward design, the educator starts with goals, creates or plans out assessments and finally makes lesson plans. The key to backward design is that before the instructional procedures are developed, assessments that will provided information about the attainment of instructional objectives must be planned. This way of lesson development ensures that objectives and assessments align and provide an equitable way to prepare students for assessments, (Estes, et. al., p52).
I. Identify desired results.
Establish your learning goals for the course. This is where the educator determines what the students should know, understand and do by the end of the course. This is also the time where the educator narrows the scope of learning since everything about the subject can not be taught in the given timeframes. The educator should consider three questions during this phase of instructional development:
- What should participants hear, read, view, explore or otherwise encounter?
- What knowledge and skills should participants master? What processes, strategies and methods should they learn to use?
- What are big ideas and important understandings participants should retain?
Answering each of these questions will help you determine the best content for your course,and create concrete, specific learning goals for your students.
II. Determine acceptable evidence.
What will you accept as evidence that students are making progress toward the learning goals of the course? How will you know if they are “getting it”?
A wide range of assessment methods should be considered (for example, essay tests, term papers, short-answer quizzes, homework assignments, lab projects, problems to solve, etc.) in order to ensure that you test for exactly the learning you want them to gain.
III. Plan learning experiences & instruction.
After you have decided what results you want and how you will know you’ve achieved them, then you start planning how you’re going to teach. What are the best exercises, problems or questions for developing your students’ ability to meet your learning goals? How can they practice using new knowledge to gain the skills you want them to learn? How can they apply their learning? You want to foster increasing understanding, not rote memorization.
Sexuality is a broad topic, and is an important aspect of life for youthful and adults to learn about. This broad topic can be divided into smaller areas, and we can not teach every aspect of a topic in any one setting. The lesson plan or topic being presented could divide broad concept of sexuality into much smaller components; gender, identity, sexual behavior, sexual attitudes and customs, or sexual problems are only a few. Backward design in sexuality education gives us the opportunity to focus our lesson or presentation on specific topics and to tailor the learning engage students in a manner that when they leave the classroom, that enduring understanding has been imparted.
In sexuality education, we need to understand what the expected outcomes of the course is. Clear definition leads to clear direction, working backward from clearly defined outcomes will make certain that those who want the teaching to occur and the educator are on the same page about the learning objectives. It is too often in this field, that tems are used interchangeably, i.e. gender and sex. The critical thinking about the topic area that backward design emphasizes only serves to help the teacher and student alike in making effective use of the learning opportunity.
Buehl, D. (2001, April 16). Backward Design – Forward Thinking. Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Covey, S. R. (n.d.). Books: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People : Habit 2. Stephen R. Covey.
Estes, T. H., Mintz, S. L., & Gunter, M. A. (2011). Instruction: A Models Approach (6th Edition ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. (2014). Understanding by Design. Understanding by Design.