Getting to What You Want Them to Know

We have all had that moment when designing a new class or redesigning an existing class where it feels like you have taken all of the stuff out of your closet, and it is sitting in depressing heaps around the room, and thinking that there is no way to get it all back in so that things work better for you. I generally run through this process when I feel like my students aren’t getting what I want them to get out of my class. All of the pieces are there – I have covered the material that I want them to know, but it just isn’t coming together for them.

When I redesigned my classes to be flipped classes, I had to really think about what I wanted them to know. I stumbled upon Backward Design and gave it a try. It was tough at first to set aside my pile of concepts, definitions, and techniques and think first about the bigger picture, but when I finished the project, I had a much better sense of what I wanted my students to be able to do with my course. This led me to a better sense of what concepts, definitions, and techniques I wanted them to look at. It also allowed me to fine tune some assignments to better get the students to consider the critical things and design new assignments that filled the holes that I hadn’t even seen.

As a result of this process, I now have a better sense of which of these parts I need to reinforce more, and which will come along with the other work that we do without much intervention from me. To continue with the closet analogy, I started by figuring out what I wanted to be able to do with the space (find things quickly, categorize my items by how I use them, get things out quickly and put them away quickly). It was much easier after that to put together the work that I wanted them to do so that it led to these goals. I haven’t perfected the design yet, but it is now much easier to find the places where what I am covering doesn’t lead to what I want my students to be able to do and tweak things.