Using Backward Design to Create Dynamic Lessons

Program Standard 4

4. Content Knowledge – The teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.

4.4 Element – Designing Coherent Instruction in the area of Lesson and Unit Structure

4.4 Example of Proficient – The lesson or unit has a clearly defined structure around which activities are organized. Progression of activities is even, with reasonable time allocations.

Effective teaching requires a dedication to thoughtful planning to ensure that lessons are dynamic and relevant. According to Marzano (2007), “The decisions teachers make about the focus of units of instruction, the lessons within those units, and the segments within each lesson provide the infrastructure for effective or ineffective teaching” (Chapter 10, Section 2, para. 4). He also argues that flexibility is a key factor for student success as it is necessary to amend lessons based on student comprehension. It is important for all students to receive the individual scaffolding they need in order to thrive academically. It is also essential for teachers to anticipate difficulties or misconceptions that students may face when learning a subject so that they can create contingencies. The more prepared that an educator is when teaching a lesson the better the outcomes stand to be. Marzano (2007) argues, “Experienced teachers were better able to anticipate situations that were likely to be encountered and were able to generate contingency plans based on those possibilities” (Chapter 10, Section 2, para. 5). Although veteran educators have past experiences to help inform their practice, new teachers can also take the time to consciously prepare for multiple scenarios. Thoughtful planning also helps teachers ensure that lessons progress in a logical manner and that all learning outcomes are meaningfully addressed.


In order to achieve a cohesive lesson, Wiggins and McTighe (2005) suggest starting with the desired results based on standards and work backward to then create materials and activities around that end goal (p. 8). They argue that when teachers do this they are able to see assessments as part of the learning process and use them formatively throughout the unit instead of just as a summative check of knowledge at the end (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 8). This style allows teachers to use informal comprehension checks to adapt lessons and provide students with the proper support to succeed. When teachers plan lessons in this manner it becomes easier to center them around standards and learning targets instead of having to try to integrate them as an afterthought. Many new teachers often first think of fun activities or rely heavily on textbooks to create lessons without thinking about how standards will fit into them. It becomes easy to get attached to an idea about how fun or exciting an activity could be without looking at the importance of how it will fit into the learning goals. This approach pushes teachers to use backward design to ensure that each lesson is impactful and situated within the larger context of a unit. It also enables teachers to focus on the information that needs to be taught and the manner which is most conducive to the subject matter. Once the standards have been identified and the learning target is established, it becomes easier to break down the learning into manageable segments and create formative assessments to check and see if students are progressing through the material. Ultimately effective lessons are well sequenced and thoughtfully planned and successful teachers are able to adapt as circumstances arise.

Marzano, R. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. [Kindle DX version] Retrieved from Amazon
Wiggins, G.P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on the website Educational Technology.

Student Centered Learning Through Technology

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 5

5. Engage in professional growth and leadership – Teachers continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.

a. Participate in local and global learning communities to explore creative applications of technology to improve student learning.

Program Standard 1

1. Expectations – The teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

1.1 Element – Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy

1.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ interest and cultural heritage and displays this knowledge for groups of students.

The use of technology in education has always been a hotly debated subject. Some believed that children should worry more about gaining prescribed knowledge and that the use of technology is unnecessary in that pursuit. Certainly, students can learn literacy, math, science, social studies, and history without it but does that mean that they should have to? Opponents to the implementations of technology in schools argue that it distracts students from their studies because they are used to using it for entertainment (Evans, 2008, 308). If that is the case, then shouldn’t educators take it upon themselves to help students understand what a powerful learning tool it can be? Others argue that young students cannot handle the rigors of digital citizenship and should be taught a strong moral conduct before being allowed to go online at school (Evans, 2008, 307). However, students will be exposed the internet regardless and if it is done in school from an early age teachers can help students understand their role as a responsible member of a digital community. Finally, those who oppose early exposure to technology indicate that students should be exposed at a much older age so that they do not have to learn soon-to-be obsolete technology at a young age (Evans, 2008, 311). Contrarily, it would benefit students to be well equipped to adapt to new technologies, as they are quick and ever changing.

With the prevalence of technology in everyday life, it seems that a more pertinent question should be how should educators integrate it into the classroom. One objection to the use of technology that actually holds some credence is that it can be distracting for students. However, when introduced and used in a meaningful way it can transform learning. One tool that teachers can use when deciding when to integrate technology into the classroom is the SAMR Model for Technology Integration. At the bottom of this taxonomy is substitution where the use of technology would not result in any functional change. Next is augmentation where it would act as a substitution but would also provide functional improvement. One step up on the taxonomy is modification where the task at hand can be significantly redesigned. At the top is redefinition where the teacher is able to use technology to create a new meaningful experience for children that would have been inconceivable without it (Puentedura, 2014). Sometimes the use of technology can be justified even if it just provides a substitution but teachers need to be aware in those cases that it might not be the best option and could lead to distractions. If the technology can redefine learning then there is no question that it should be implemented into the classroom. Another benefit is that it has the potential to ignite student-centered learning and provide them with a stronger connection to the content. There are so many different ways that technology can be seamlessly integrated into a child’s education to transform and redefine his or her learning experience.

One way to redefine education through technology is through epistemic learning programs. David Williamson Shaffer, Kurt Squire, Richard Halverson, and James Gee argue that computer simulations can be a great learning tool and that they are “the most powerful when they are personally meaningful, experiential, social, and epistemological all at the same time” (Evans, 2008, p. 296). Although programs like these are not used in school yet, the authors believe that some video games can act as a framework for future developers. These researchers believe that if developers make learning programs that require the same level of higher reasoning and practical knowledge as certain epistemic video games do that it can help students develop important skills. They maintain that education should integrate learning not only through a mere transmission of facts to be memorized but also through the development of skills. They assert, “We learn by doing—not just by doing any old thing, but by doing something as part of a larger community of people who share common goals and ways of achieving those goals” (Evans, 2008, p. 299). Having students participate in communities within virtual realities can expose them to experience that they otherwise would not be able to achieve in school. For example, students can actually participate in societal issues like politics by participating in the process. Instead of passively learning about how different political systems function they can actively partake of a reality where they are exposed to it and can influence it. This kind of learning has the potential to transform learning and provide children with a more dynamic and student-centered education. This does not mean that technology should replace standard models of teaching but that it should be a meaningful part of the curriculum.

Evans, D. L. (Eds.).  (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin.
Puentedura, R. (2014). SAMR and Bloom’s Taxonomy: Assembling the Puzzle. Common Sense Graphite. Retrieved from

Role Playing As A Means To Drive Democratic Education

Program Standard 5

5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.

5.1 Element – Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

5.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.

democracyDemocratic education aims to help students broaden their worldview and create more caring, empathetic citizens who are able to relate to their peers across socioeconomic and cultural differences. It is based on the idea that in order to maintain a flourishing society people must learn to respectfully interact with their fellow citizens despite differing ideologies. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2012) argue, “Any view of how people should develop has to refer to the inescapable fact that life is social. A social being cannot act without reference to his or her companions on earth; otherwise in the quest for self-maintenance and autonomy each person may conflict with other people making similar efforts” (p. 249). Getting students to explore issues from a perspective other than their own can have profound affects on how they learn to relate to other people. In a society where privileged groups often enact laws that affect everyone it is crucial for citizens to be able to take into account the needs and desires of people outside of their own experience. This quest is important to many educators but it is difficult to engender this kind of environment in a classroom in an authentic way.

One method for encouraging empathy and exploring issues within classrooms is role playing. This technique allows students to explore uncomfortable or tense issues in a safe and non-threatening way that can help them resolve issues and learn how to more successfully communicate with their peers. Joyce et al. (2012) postures that “Role playing provides us with an opportunity to model the behaviors that begin and maintain interactions and build integrative interactions and, thus, relations” (p. 261). Implementing this skill in classrooms takes extra planning and effort from teachers but has the potential to breed a more respectful and thoughtful environment. In the long term students will learn to communicate with each other more effectively and solve their own problems in a mutually respectful manner. Joyce et al. (2012) states, “This basic social model generates the positive feelings that encourage us to manage conflict politely and seek civil solutions in a civil, democracy-encouraging fashion” (p. 261). Democratic education is centered around the idea that schools should help encourage students to become better citizens and role playing can help achieve that goal. This practice has the potential to not only help students succeed in school but also develop skills necessary to succeed later in life.

Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
 The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Flickr following creative commons licensing.

Using Advance Organizers To Promote Active Learning

Program Standard 1

1. Expectations – The teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

1.3 Element – Engaging Students in Learning

1.3 Example of Proficient – The lesson has a clearly defined structure around which the activities are organized. Pacing of the lesson is generally appropriate.

When learning new subject matter it is easy for students to become overwhelmed and confused by the material. One efficient way of helping students understand the lesson is to begin with an advance organizer. This technique provides “introductory material presented ahead of the learning task and at a higher level of abstraction and inclusiveness than the learning task itself “(Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 204). Framing instruction this way allows students to not only understand the eventual outcomes of their learning but also connect the information to previously learned material. Four main types of advance organizers help student increase their learning: expository, narrative, skimming, and graphic (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, Chapter 4, para. 20). Expository advance organizers scaffold learning by creating a written or verbal framework for the information about to be presented. Narrative advance organizers spark students’ interest by framing the material in the format of a story or tale. Skimming advance organizers allow students to obtain a general overview of the material being presented so that they can begin to arrange the information in their mind. The most popular of the four is graphic advance organizers which allow students to see a visual representation of the content being taught (Dean et al., 2012, Chapter 4, para. 21-9). While this teaching strategy is framed around explicit instruction it is anything but passive.

Teachers who employ this tactic effectively in their classrooms actually enable students to become active learners who are aware of their own metacognitive processes. When used competently educators can encourage students to become life-long learners capable of employing the best inquiry practices. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted, “Critical thinking and cognitive reorganization can be explained to the learners, who receive direct instruction in orderly thinking and in the notion of knowledge hierarchies. Ultimately, they can apply these techniques independently to new learning” (p. 210). This kind of instruction imbues students with the tools necessary to fully understand the learning process and become familiar with their own needs. This awareness becomes even more prominent when teachers use advance organizers in meaningful ways. Educators should try to utilize all the different varieties of them for the benefit of their students. This mixture will do two things for students. First it will allow students to be exposed to information in an array of distinct approaches which will improve information retention. The second thing that it will do for students is to allow them to explore their own unique learning style by being exposed to different types. It is important for students to be engaged in their learning and advance organizers can provide students with the efficacy to take control of their education.

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McRel [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Characteristics of an Effective Educator

Program Standards 1–5

1. ExpectationsThe teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

2. InstructionThe teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.

3. Differentiation The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

4. Content KnowledgeThe teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.

5. Learning Environment The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.

An effective teacher must be competent, dedicated, adaptable, and most importantly skilled at maintaining order in the classroom. Learning cannot take place in a classroom that is not productively managed and controlled. There are a great many techniques available for teachers to employ when maintaining and retaining structure in the class. A competent teacher must be a keen observer and amend his or her strategy for each new set of students and always be evaluating if adjustments need to be made. Once a teacher has created a stable environment conducive to learning they can use their competence, dedication, and adaptability to become a successful educator.

When a teacher is competent in and dedicated to their subject matter they can not only seamlessly answer student questions and create valuable lessons but they can also inspire student to want to know more about the material being taught. Educators who are passionate about what they are teaching create students who are more likely to be enthusiastic about learning. Another aspect of being competent and dedicated as an instructor is staying current with up-to-date teaching methods and available technology. Teachers today have more resources available than ever before and it is important for them to understand how to find and effectively use them to the benefit of their students. Teachers are now empowered to use software and hardware to individualize the training each students needs.

deskTo become particularly competent educators must be adaptable in the planning and execution of their instruction. Recent and ongoing research has caused administrators and instructors to understand the necessity of differentiating lessons for a variety of students (Marzano, 2007). Teachers must be able to create exercises on a single subject for several different learning styles in order to expertly educate each one of their students. Beyond differentiating direction, teachers must also be able to adapt on the spot when they see that an activity is ineffective. If a teacher can see that their plan is not having the desired effect and then modify it immediately they provide their students with the best chance of learning the subject matter. Educators who are competent and dedicated tend to be naturally adaptable and able to observe each of their students’ needs giving them the best chance at success.

Marzano, R. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. [Kindle DX version] Retrieved from
 The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Flickr following creative commons licensing.