Bennett Day School Curriculum Design Approach

In building a program from the ground up, Bennett Day School has the extraordinary opportunity to develop our curriculum with intention and joy, unconstrained by “what we’ve always done.”

In order to ensure our objectives, assessments, and assignments remain relevant, we adhere to a curriculum design framework called backward design. This framework allows us to focus on student understanding, end-goals, and intentions while remaining ever fluid, responsive, and reflective.

What is Backward Design?
As outlined in Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding By Design, backward design is a three-stage curriculum design approach that starts with the high-level results we want for our students, and works backwards from those concepts to find the most effective ways to attain them.

Stage 1: Identify desired results. Bennett Day School establishes the essential understandings, knowledge, and aptitudes of our learners, compiling our findings into what we call the “Profile of a Bennett Day School Graduate.” In this stage, we focus on the following questions:

  • What should students know, understand, and be able to do?
  • What content is worthy of understanding?
  • What enduring understandings are desired?

Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence. Bennett Day School instructors use the latest trends and research in progressive education—as well as their own diverse and extensive experience—to determine how to qualify and quantify each child’s developmental growth. Here, we ask ourselves:

  • How will we know if students have achieved the desired results?
  • What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?       

Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instructions. Our instructors determine the coursework that aligns with our educational goals and provides ample opportunity for developmental documentation. In the process, we consider:

  • What enabling knowledge (facts, concepts, principles) and skills (processes, procedures, strategies) will students need in order to perform effectively and achieve desired results?
  • What activities will equip students with the needed knowledge and skills?
  • What will need to be taught and coached, and how should it best be taught, in light of performance goals?
  • What materials and resources are best suited to accomplish these goals?

Closing the Loop for Continued Refinement
As a necessary part of this framework, our faculty have the gift of four dedicated hours per week for professional development. This time allows them to collaborate with colleagues, document student growth, and evaluate the successes and challenges of the current program. By constantly stepping back to assess their own processes, Bennett Day School educators sustain a cycle of continued refinement, granting them new and better ways to understand their students, their curriculum, and the developmental framework that guides their practice. 
In this way, Bennett Day School’s approach to curriculum design makes for robust, rigorous academics and creativity in thinking and learning for all members of our community, and fulfills our school’s mission of advancing creativity, innovation, and the development of life-long learners and leaders.

 Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. “The Three Stages of Backward Design.” Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998. 17-19. Print.