Applying Fink’s Guide to the HS Level

Backward design based curriculum isn’t a new practice for me, but the readings for this week made me realize that I was not exactly designing my class backward and that could have had an effect on my students’ understanding of the material. Of course, I was also teaching high school where you have to meet grade level requirements, department requirements, administrative requirements (those damn several survey forms!), state requirements (love those SOLs) and day-to-day responsibilities (attendance, homework checks, general classroom behavior management). With all that’s demanded of you and the seemingly constant interruptions (fire drills, student rights and responsibilities mandates, elections, club fairs, pep rallies) it felt impossible to fit everything in!

Since I plan on going back to work in a few years, I was curious to see if Dr. Fink’s essay, “A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning,” could be adapted to use in high school. His essay makes it clear that his approach is geared toward a college-level course, but backwards design is used in high school too, so I was most interested in whether or not his techniques were applicable to 9-12 courses. I decided yes and no.

Yes, you could take major topics in the course and spread them out throughout the year, but I feel like most teachers do that; we call them units. It got me thinking though, that my units were based on core literature readings. I’d have a To Kill a Mockingbird unit and an Of Mice and Men unit and center activities around the literature. What I think Fink was getting at was that perhaps the “Learning Goals” should drive the coverage rather than the literature driving the course coverage.

One of the main problems with applying his step by step process is that it is so in-depth that it would be really difficult to plan out an entire school year. A college semester is about 15 weeks whereas a k-12 school year is about 40. You could plan quarter by quarter or semester by semester, but there’d still be a level of planning for the next quarter/semester involved; it’s hard to do one without the other.

There are other issues with applying his course design plan (FIDeLity assessments for 150 students?) to a high school class that I won’t get into, but I appreciate his approach. It’s clear (well, clear-ish. what’s he mean by an authentic project on page 19?), it has charts to help plan, and it makes sense.