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Begin with the End in Mind

December 16, 2015

Welcome to the last installment of Website Wednesday, the weekly blog by a BetterLesson Master Teacher highlighting online resources.

Today, Master Teacher Mitchell Smith shares some ideas and resources for how he prepares students for assessments from the first day of school.


Teaching is a humbling profession. The techniques that work with one student population may not necessarily have the same results with another. Even for veteran teachers, new teaching challenges pop up year-to-year.

If you are anything like me, you recognize that every problem has a potential solution. Period. I don’t like to be told that I can’t do something. With teaching, however, I am not a solo artist, professional, or learner. Teaching and learning is a community process: students, families, teachers, administration, and support staff, among many others.

As I write this post, I am processing the scores of my students’ unit exams. But today is an extension of the first day of this unit, which is itself an extension of the first day of class. For me, I always begin with the end in mind. From the very start, I framed what I expect from my students, as evidenced by the class motto banner shown below.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 3.39.51 PM
Every day I approach instruction and assessment through the lens of scholarship excellence. Therefore, how I prepare and execute in the classroom is a model of what I look for in students’ preparation and execution. Striving does not equate to achieving perfection. There are always areas for polish. That being said, results from today’s exam will lead me to identify how we can improve.

Instructional Models
I have found a few different instructional models helpful for framing the way in which I prepare a unit, from end to beginning.

The first is Understanding by Design (UbD). It is perhaps the most well-known model and one that I have implemented quite extensively. The three stage backward design model leads with the instructional goals and follows with the formative evidence and specific instructional details. Thus the end (Stage 1) is where the magic begins.

The second is the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching model, which comes from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This one also begins with the desired end goals (2nd step) with the requisite formative checks along the way, ending with reflecting on student learning and establishing new goals.

Assessment Strategies
I spent time this past summer reading several teacher books trying to hone my skills. One book, Teach Like A Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov, featured a number of great strategies organized into five thematic parts. One such strategy called “Plan for Error,” pushed me to consider how I can systematically anticipate errors before they crop up, thus allowing me to begin the lesson with possible ends in mind. As Mr. Lemov says, “If students make the mistakes you anticipate, you’re likely to have a terrific solution; if you’re wrong, you get to improve your level of insight about your students’ thinking by reflecting on the dissonance between the errors you anticipated and the mistakes that actually occurred.”

Professional Development
The idea of beginning with the end in mind is also evidenced in BetterLesson’s TeachCycle program. Teachers work virtually with a TeachCycle coach to identify a broad area of need for their students, and then teachers select a specific teaching challenge that falls under this student growth area. With the support of their coach, teachers select a strategy that targets the teaching challenge and measure its efficacy. Teachers continue to implement and measure new strategies rapidly, enabling them to quickly learn what works for their students and what doesn’t. When students have made adequate growth in one area, teachers select a different teaching challenge and the iterative process starts anew.

“Begin with the end in mind,” isn’t just a trendy catch-phrase. It is the mantra that guides my every move as I strive for excellence in teaching.  But if I don’t make proper preparations for what students need to know, understand, and be able to do, then it will be more difficult and unlikely that my students, in turn, will strive for excellence in their scholarship.

Mitchell Smith is a National Board Certified high school science teacher at Kentridge High School in Kent, Washington. An avid outdoorsman, Mitchell enjoys hiking, mountaineering, camping, canoeing, mountain biking, and running. To view all of Mitchell’s Biology lessons, please click here.

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