Farrell’s Backwards Planning Model

Question: Have I, as a teacher, adopted Farrell’s Backwards Planning Model in the planning of curriculum? Does it help align written curriculum, taught curriculum, and assessment? Why or why not? Thinking about the indicators that matter most to me; how do I plan to evaluate the classroom culture and teaching effectiveness in the future?

Response: The question before me this week is multifaceted for sure. So in answering it, I will first explain Farrell’s Backwards Planning Model. Following this explanation, I will then answer both questions from the first two sentences to the prompt, with accompanying explanations for my answers. I will then shift to explain my curriculum process and use that to share what is more important in evaluating the teaching and learning culture of a classroom.

Farrell’s Backwards Planning Model or elements of lesson design is all about presenting students with a foundational text to present every lesson. This text leads into guided practice which leads to a check for understanding, then to modeling and application. There is a final step of application and independent practice that becomes the initial text-driven step for the next lesson. This lesson planning model is backwards in that due to this last overlapping element, every lesson backs up to the prior lesson.

So do I use this model? No. I do not. I do not believe every student learns best through the initial reading of a text. Making this element the starting place does a disservice to the diversity of learners in our classrooms. Just today I had a conversation with a student about what they value in their experience in the classroom. This student told me they find variety in the classroom experience to be beneficial. Students, all students, want to have things mixed up. They do not want to do the same thing the same way every time. Further, not all students are on the same reading level so some students will either be not challenged and bored with the text or will not be able to grasp the complexity of it. Either of these outcomes is very undesirable in the planning of our curriculum or lessons. Educators should be planning lessons for student success not setting students up for guaranteed failure. Since this model is not ideal for designing curriculum it stands to reason that it fails in any attempt to align written curriculum, taught curriculum, and assessments. Overall it is simply a bad way of designing curriculum.

Since I find Farrell’s Backwards Planning Model to be quite deficient, then what does matter to me in curriculum design. For me, curriculum starts with the standards. What do students need to know? This can be determined through a variety of ways – national standards such as with an Advanced Placement course, state-level standards, or essential standards or knowledge decided upon at the district or building level. From this standard showing what students need to know at the end of the unit or lesson, I devise a question to guide the learning. Typically I create a question that will lead the students to ask their own questions to drive their inquiry process of learning. I will provide aid to this process through a variety of means, directed by the content and the essential question. This could be direct instruction, it could be a video, it could be reading through primary sources, or it could be a class discussion. After this element, students then use the essential question to guide their own application process, to which I provide consultation and help – when needed. All of this revolves around the students and their engagement with their own learning.

Given what matters most in my curriculum design process, I will look for high levels of student engagement when it comes to evaluating class culture and teaching effectiveness as an instructional leader. Students need to be actively engaged in the lesson process, not just passively reading to learn. Of course, the district or building chosen method for observing and evaluating instruction will be followed, but for me, the engagement piece (engagement of both teachers and students) is the most crucial element for teaching and learning to occur.