Backwards Design

Backwards design is the idea that teachers should design lessons with a steady eye on what students should know and be able to do. Identifying the end we expect students to reach provides focus and efficiency. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have written and spoken extensively on this idea. Rather than starting with individual facts or a particular activity, teachers should design lessons with the end goal in mind and specific content and methodology to reach that end.

The end goal of a DBQ Project unit is to help students think straight and write clearly. To this end, our units are organized around the 6-Step DBQ Project Method, blending historical content with pedagogy in the way Wiggins and McTighe suggest. Students face different questions each time they begin a new DBQ, but the method for investigating the answer to the question remains the same. Each DBQ or Mini-Q begins with a hook exercise to spark student interest followed by a background essay to build context, thus leveling the playing field in the classroom. This is logically followed by an examination of the analytical question and then pre-bucketing, a way to divide that question into manageable categories. Next, students analyze a variety of documents with an emphasis on finding significant facts, assessing author point of view, drawing inferences, and determining main idea. The fifth step involves organizing documents into evidence clusters (buckets). The final step is the transition to writing, which can include a thrash-out, structured outlining, and formal writing. Each one of these 6 steps is a stepping stone towards the final goal of a coherent argument essay.

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