Reflections on Backwards Mapping

As part of the certification program which I am currently enrolled in, we took a new approach in lesson planning. Backwards mapping is an effective way to lesson plan based off of standards; it is practical, efficient, and easy, with a little bit of practice. Fortunately for me, backwards mapping is the preferred method of lesson planning at my school, so I had many resources and experts available for reference in my first go-through. Backwards mapping is the process of beginning with the end result (the standard to be met) and working back to the lessons that lead to this standard, as well as considering how students will demonstrate their achievement (“Taking Center Stage”). Utilizing the method includes developing proper assessments to ensure that the standard is being met.

One aspect of backwards mapping that was not entirely familiar to me was the idea of unpacking a standard. I was a bit confused when this was first explained to me, but after practicing it a few times, I see the merit of it and definitely plan to continue this method with each of the standards I have to teach. When unpacking the standard, you break it down into the bid ideas that students will need to know, as well as the actions students must take. From this point, you can plan specific activities to foster student progress in the desired attributes. Michael Schrimp, in his blog posts, discusses the merits of unpacking a standard, particularly how they apply to the Common Core standards. (Schrimp) His insight was interesting to me, even though I do not have the Common Core standards, because he places a great emphasis on the increasing complexity of the standards and how the students seem to have less support as they progress, which holds true for AZ state standards, as well. For me, this experience was eye-opening because I realized how many assignments I have planned for a standard that do not truly express what the standard asks for. In example, a standard that says to “analyze,” an activity that I have planned which describes or lists the information does not meet the standard, which calls for a more in-depth task: analyzing.

The strengths of unpacking a standard include a deeper understanding of the goal to be met, a layout of prior skills necessary to meet the standard (the “Big Ideas”), and a logical procession to lesson planning. If I base a lesson on the standard of “analyze the development and historical significance of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity,” it is easy, at first glance, to assume that covering the basics of each religion meets this standard. In reality, once you unpack the standard and pay it closer attention, it becomes apparent that the standard is not just to know information about the development of each religion, but also their historical significance and how they have impacted cultures throughout the ages. To meet this standard, a specific knowledge base must be established (the aforementioned information), but it calls for a deeper understanding and analysis. To this end, the activities must align with the standard, and the method of assessment must assess the historical significance of each religion, not just the key information, or it does not meet the standard. In this sense, backwards mapping is also a strong approach that lends itself well to meeting the standard.

The weaknesses of unpacking a standard and backwards mapping are few and far between, and up to personal interpretation. In my opinion, the only weakness of these methods is the amount of time it can take to complete. Unpacking a standard takes significantly more time than just reading through it, but the results are well worth the effort.

These two processes have had a significant impact on how I understand and plan for standards. before unpacking the standard, I believe that my expectations were shallow and minimalistic , focusing on the “what” of a standard, rather than the What, Why and How. After backwards mapping a lesson, I have a greater understanding of the standard, as well as numerous new ideas of how to meet each goal.


Schrimp, M. (2016, April 07). Unpacking standards to improve instruction. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from

Taking Center Stage – Act II (TCSII). (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2017, from

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