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by Erica Fischer on May 4, 2013

Backward Design for World Language Teachers

The concept of backwards design is not new to most world language teachers. As schools become more product and test-oriented, teachers must use the end goals of proficiency as a constant guide when they are developing curriculum and assessments. At last week’s #langchat, participants talked about how they are using the backwards design concept to create more engaging activities, authentic assessments and informative rubrics.

Defining Backwards Design

Although there are varying interpretations of backward design, @suarez712002 gave us a perfect Twitter-length description. She said, “Backwards design = 1) What students will be able to do 2) Assessments 3) Activities.”

In more specific terms, backward design is the concept that curriculum development starts with the end goal in mind. What will students be able to do by the end of the term, unit or class period? When world language teachers consider these goals before sharing new information, many believe that it helps them create a better learning experience for the student. @SenoraMcLellan shared a widely held idea with the rest of the participants: “Identifying desired results makes the planning of learning experiences and instruction so much easier!” @msfrenchteach said, “When the many steps of backward design are used to develop the curriculum, assessment and all leading to it should lead to student successes.”

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Teachers Who Can = Kids Who Can

Many participants of #langchat emphasized that backwards design is really only as good as the final goal. Creating meaningful final statements of ability is crucial to an effective curriculum. @maggierodger said, “We use success criteria. We write “I can” statements at the beginning of the unit about what the kids will be able to do by the end.” @SraSpanglish shared her process as well: “Once I have a question to be answered, I consider accessible sources and how to process them.”

One of the most popular ways to create meaningful final goals for many world language teachers is by adapting the Lingua Folio “I Can” statements for their classrooms. These simple, student-centered statements are clearly defined and provide a great starting point for many backward design units. They also contribute to more confidence in their burgeoning skills. @maggierodger explained, “Students using “I can” statements hopefully understand that they CAN speak another language (no matter how little vocab they have).”

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Putting Backward Design on the Students

This brought up a valuable point: as soon as students buy into the concept of backward design, it becomes much more effective. Some teachers shared ideas where students had control over what the end goals would be. @msfrenchteach said, “I began providing students with the Can-do statements this year. Students definitely appreciate knowing the unit goals.”

Other teachers expressed that they put even more of the backward design of their courses on the student’s shoulders. @Innablog said, “I have student write their goals for learning English and tell me what will help them to reach it.” @SraSpanglish shared an idea where she gave students general thematic topics and asked them to create their own desired “I Can” statements. @jennahacker added to this idea: “I have students tell me what they need to accomplish the “I Can” statements at the beginning AND reflect at the end. What did they need?”

Reflect and Respond

Many teachers suggested that reflection and adaptation is key to making backward design work. Having students do self-evaluations of a lesson helps teachers make the activity better for the next class. @CoLeeSensei said, “I often have students ‘self-assess’ after an activity and sometimes I remember to get them to jot down few things on back!” Other teachers mentioned using “talk-back” cards: cards with a few key questions about the activity and whether it met the student’s language learning needs. @Marishawkins said, “One thing that has helped me is to craft “can do” statements for my objectives. I reference them at the end for an exit ticket.”

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Other Thoughts on Using Backward Design for World Language

  • @natadel76 said, “I think the key is that the students know where they’re going and that they need all the steps to get there.”
  • @jennahacker said, “Backwards design works. Knowing where students need to end influences every decision and activity up to that point. Backwards design also allows student to see the big picture and how it breaks down into many goals.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “Backward design allows educators to observe BETTER student success – both smaller and larger successes.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “Backward design also helps students see that language is a practical tool to accomplish a task they just might face in the real world.”
  • @msfrenchteach said, “Traditional testing can really disappear from the curriculum if well-developed units are created with backward design in mind. That’s my goal.”
  • @cadamsf1 said, “It would also help parents who always ask, “What can do we do?” It gives them a concrete task also!”

Thank You!

Thank you so much for your participation in this amazing #langchat! It is so much fun to talk about world language teaching with teachers around the world! Get involved with #langchat by sharing your ideas for conversation topics and help us brainstorm better ways of teaching together.

Again, thank you to our wonderful moderators, @CoLeeSensei and @msfrenchteach. It was so wonderful to have both of them working to make sure everyone’s voices were heard. As usual, there are many great ideas that we couldn’t fit into the summary. For a complete transcript of this session, please visit our online archive.

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Additional Resources

Kentucky Department of Education: Standards and Curriculum Documents
eLinguaFolio – open source LinguaFolio service serving North Carolina
Juno – Online tests, quizzes, worksheets & textbooks
Self and-Partner Evaluation Activity Rubric
Infuse Learning
New Twists to Old Themes | Señora B
Youtube Video
The Comprehensible Classroom


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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