Backward Design

On episode 76 of Back to Work, Merlin talked a bit about the idea of backward design. Of course, he wasn’t talking about education, but it was the same principles that all teachers learn in their first education class. I was thinking about this today when I saw The Dark Knight Rises. I haven’t read all of the reviews I’ve saved in my Instapaper queue, but the consensus seems to be that it’s a good film, though not as strong as the first two in the trilogy, and a fitting end to the series.

I’m not sure precisely how this film stacks up against the others, but viewed as a trilogy it’s hard not to be awed by Christopher Nolan’s achievement. Watching them all, it seems clear that Nolan had a clear idea of where he wanted the story to go from the very beginning, his own version of “backward design.” It is of course entirely possible that I’m wrong, but I think it’s difficult to fake this level of completeness in a story. Breaking Bad is another prime example of this. While the details of the story have evolved over the seasons, the basic premise of Walter White turning from Mr. Chips to Scarface has driven the show successfully. I haven’t read enough interviews with Christopher Nolan to know the arc he had in mind for his Dark Knight triogy, but I can give it no higher praise than to say it compares favorably with Breaking Bad.

It’s that time of summer where I am beginning to think about my classes for the upcoming year. I’m no Vince Gilligan or Christopher Nolan, but I’d really like to be able to have just as strong a vision for what I want to happen from August to May. What is my ultimate goal for this course? In the AP course in particular, which I am teaching for the first time, that’s not an easy question to answer. Possibilities include:

  • High participation rate on the AP Latin test in May
  • High average scores on the AP Latin test in May
  • For the students to have an appreciation of the literature of Classical Rome
  • For the students to be experts on Latin grammar and syntax
  • For the students to be able to translate Classical Latin fluently

Of course, I do not have to choose just one of those goals, but the order in which I prioritize them will have an impact on the day-to-day planning of the class. Since this is my first time with this particular course, I’m not really hoping for Gilligan or Nolan level of execution (sorry, students), but at least the first season of Heroes would be nice.