When In Rome…A Journey of Backwards Design and Integrated Instruction

romeYou’re planning a trip to Rome, with the end goal of ordering in Italian a local wine for your date at a restaurant you biked to without a map.

How would you plan to meet this goal?

Would you rather memorize a phrasebook one week, read blogs on intercultural dating the next, trace Google maps the third, then consult a sommelier? OR, would you rather build and integrate these skills in context while traveling through the Italian countryside?

How do your students learn best? How do we best prepare them to perform at a high level to be college and career ready? Is it more effective to learn and apply skills in isolation, or integrate them in meaningful instruction? In either case, we need to plan with the end in mind.

Think of ANet’s Schedule of Assessed Standards as the itinerary for your trip to Italy. The SAS includes checkpoints along the way to ensure skills are being built toward the end goal. It helps us with WHAT to teach WHEN, but sometimes we need a bit more help with the HOW.

Many teachers are finding success using robust curricular resources such as Everyday Math and EngageNY. The authors of these units used backwards design to integrate and spiral multiple standards and skills that build in a meaningful way. The thoughtfully crafted units guide both teachers and students to higher levels of learning. They not only help us with WHAT to teach, but HOW, serving as a type of coach for teachers. They include authentic performance tasks with exemplars and rubrics, helping us aim for the right level of rigor.

This fall I popped into a fourth grade classroom using an EngageNY unit aligned to the A1 SAS. Here’s some of what I saw, along with the corresponding CCSS:

  • Students collaborating to construct argument paragraphs (W.4.1A, W.4.2A, SL.4.1)
  • Students defending the claim that the character in a poetic novel had learned about poetry (RL.4.10, W.41B).
  • A debate between two students over whether a quote from a companion poem by Robert Frost was a valid piece of evidence to support the claim (RL.4.9, SL4.1D, RL.4.1). They decided that although it did include the use of the poetic device of repetition, it was not written by the character and therefore his “blue car, blue car” stanza provided more valid support (RL.4.5).
  • Another pair of students revised their concluding sentence to include a “so what” sentiment (W.4.5, W.41D) by claiming that not only did Jack learn about poetry, but changed into a poet himself (RL.4.3).
Shakespeare and the Standards? Why not! (thanks to Dewey's LEah Guenther)

Shakespeare and the Standards? Why not! (from the classroom of Dewey’s Leah Guenther)

Authentic, high-level work, fun for kids and aligned to the ANet SAS. This class attained 14% above the network average on the related questions on the A1 assessment.

What more could you ask for? You can order your wine and sip it too!

The “Roman date” of this module? Students read their original imitation poems aloud with expression, read biographies of poets, and presented original essays linking the poet’s life to author’s purpose. This teacher could determine how to proceed with the next units in the module based on A1 results, the A2 SAS, formative assessments, and student engagement.

The charge of this teacher, and of us all, is to capitalize on these fantastic curricular resources while aligning to ANet assessments and preparing our students for all Common Core demands of them. It’s a challenge. It’s more complicated than the skills-in-isolation method, but it’s more like what real life presents.

Remember that you’re not alone on the journey. Your coaches are biking alongside you. Call on us! We will plan backwards together so we can move forward together. Feel free to add your questions about and experiences with backwards mapping with EngageNY and ANet to the comments below this blog.

See you in Rome!


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