Digital Leading and Learning · ePortfolio

Backward Design

Fink’s Three Column Table and the backwards design model have been extremely helpful while planning our significant learning environment for the learning ePortfolio course. While similar in nature (having goals in mind before designing the learning activities) there are some differences as well. Fink’s design asks more questions about the physical learning environment in which the students will be accomplishing their goals. It asks about the characteristics of the teachers and learners before starting the design of the environment, which are always extremely important to consider. Both models are designed so that the teacher must look at the expected goals and outcomes of the environment before designing the rest of the course, but the UbD model seems to go into more detail to help develop those goals. For that reason, we found that using Fink’s Three Column Table is more useful for this course.

As good teachers, we automatically ask ourselves many of those pre-planning questions innately, so completing them before completing the design template was fairly simple. Despite the fact that we are more familiar with backward design, because of its specificity we believe Fink’s model is more relevant. It seems as  though the UbD model works better for planning a lesson or unit and that the Three Column Table could be more useful for planning a course. Both models are effective and would be useful to anyone to make sure they are using goals-based planning.

These models are especially useful in planning our learning ePortfolio course because it helped us understand the multitude of activities and assessments needed to reach our ultimate goals. Without these we may never have realized the necessity and opportunities for peer and teacher conferences, re-submissions, and reflections. We knew all of these would be utilized, but did not fully grasp the extent until identifying our goals and working backward. No matter which one we use, or if we decide to use them both, the foundation of our course is much more developed having explored Fink’s Three Column Table and the UbD template. 

Stage 1 – Desired Results
Established Goals: What relevant goals (e.g., content standards, course or program objectives, learning outcomes) will this design address?

Through the use of the ePortfolio, learners will utilize technological tools to enhance their 21st century learning skills and in doing so will reflect on their own learning so that they are able to take ownership in it and truly learn not only how to learn, but how to want to learn.

  • Connect the concepts between all core courses and relate academic content to their own personal interests and daily lives.
  • Become accountable for their own learning by individualizing what can be gained from a self-directed approach to the course
  • Invest in learning “how” and “why” to learn instead of  “what” to learn.

Students will understand that . . .

What are the big ideas?

What specific understandings about them are desired?

What misunderstandings are predictable?

  • Students will understand that ePortfolios are important tools for student learning.
  • Students will understand that reflection is crucial to learning and growth.
  • Students will understand that peer collaboration improves quality of work and understanding.
  • Students will understand that evaluating their learning is helpful to monitor their development.
  • Students will understand that 21st century learning skills are key to success in their future profession.
  • Students may not be able to grasp exactly how to utilize the ePortfolio to its potential at the start of the course.
Essential Questions:

What provocative questions will foster inquiry, understanding, and transfer of learning?

  • What is an ePortfolio?
  • Why is it important to want to learn?
  • How can an ePortfolio help you grow as a learner?
  • Why is an ePortfolio important for your future?
  • How will you use your ePortfolio?
  • How do you learn?
  • How can you take ownership of your own learning?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a learner?
  • What are your personal interests and passions?
  • How can you communicate about your learning?
  • In what ways have you grown as a learner?
Students will know…

What key knowledge and skills will students acquire as a result of this unit?

What should they eventually be able to do as a result of such knowledge and skills?

  • Students will know what a learning ePortfolio is.
  • Students will know why an ePortfolio is important and how it will aid their learning.
  • Students will know how to create an ePortfolio using WordPress or other blog sites.
  • Students will know their strengths and weaknesses are as a learner.
  • Students will know how to evaluate their audience
  • Students will know how to integrate appropriate tools, visuals, and language to appeal to a particular audience.
  • Students will know how to effectively collaborate with peers with proper etiquette.
Students will be able to…

  • Students will be able to design an aesthetically pleasing and well organized ePortfolio using WordPress or other blog sites.
  • Students will be able to reflect on their learning.
  • Students will be able to create and organize artifacts of learning.
  • Students will be able to select and explore topics that are of personal interest.
  • Students will be able to collaborate, in person and digitally, with peers in meaningful ways.
  • Students will be able to give significant feedback to peers.
  • Students will be able to evaluate their own growth and development as a learner.
  • Students will be able to make connections between courses.
  • Students will be able to discover personal interests and passions.
  • Students will be able to be accountable for their own learning.
Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence
Performance Tasks:

Through what authentic performance tasks will students demonstrate the desired understandings?

By what criteria will performances of understanding be judged?

  • Create an ePortfolio on WordPress or other blog posts.
  • Write blog posts.
  • Review peers’ blog posts and provide specific feedback.
  • Assess their own learning using self-created checklists, rubrics, or reflection.
  • Revise blog posts using peer and teacher feedback.
  • Assessments will be based on completion, effective communication, and various check points.

Other Evidence:

Through what other evidence (e.g., quizzes, tests, academic prompts, observations, homework, journals) will students demonstrate achievement of the desired results?

How will students reflect upon and self-assess their learning?

  • Students will conference with teachers.
  • Write reflection blog posts.
  • Create a final project.
  • Students will observe each other’s’ blog sites.
  • Students will journal (blog) about the learning ePortfolio process.
Stage 3 – Learning Plan
What learning experiences and instruction will enable students to achieve the desired results? How will the design:

W = Help the students know Where the unit is going and What is expected? Help the teacher know Where the students are coming from (prior knowledge, interests)?

H = Hook all students and Hold their interest?

E = Equip students, help them Experience the key ideas and Explore the issues?

R = Provide opportunities to Rethink and Revise their understandings and work?

E = Allow students to Evaluate their work and its implications?

T = Be Tailored (personalized) to the different needs, interests, and abilities of learners?

O = Be Organized to maximize initial and sustained engagement as well as effective learning?

  • Students will know where the unit is going and what  is expected of them by exploring model learning ePortfolios.
  • The teacher will know where  the students are coming from by having them complete a survey about their knowledge of learning ePortfolios.
  • Students will be hooked on the first day of the course during an opening discussion and debate about the importance of traditional school and educational, their interests will be held because they will realize they have a voice and will be taking control of their own learning through the hook.
  • Students will be equipped with a device of their choice: iPad, laptop, or personal cell phone.
  • Students will experience the key ideas about ePOrtfolios, reflection, and learning together through peer collaboration, discussion, and reviews.
  • Students will explore the use of the learning ePortfolio throughout the year in various ways: to compare and contrast ideas in different courses; to connect ideas in different courses; to reflect on their learning and what makes them learn effectively; to reflect on what makes them want to learn.
  • Students will rethink and revise their work through their peer reviews and teacher conferences; students will consider the critiques and praise and will adjust their posts and structure of their posts to better suit their needs .
  • Students will evaluate the effectiveness of the learning ePortfolio quarterly, and when they feel it is not working well for them, they will evaluate how to make revisions on their work to make sure the ePortfolio is working to its fullest potential.
  • Each learning ePortfolio will be tailored to the individual needs, interests, and abilities of the learner because it is the learner who is creating it.
  • Teachers must facilitate organized time and classroom structure to keep students engaged in the learning ePortfolio by providing model portfolios, discussion points, questions about their value, and time to work on and revise the learning ePortfolios.   

Created with Ryan King and Erin Sanchez


Adapted from: Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, (2005) Understanding by Design 2nd

Edition. Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development


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