From MACRO to MICRO: Using Backwards Design for Lesson Planning in Five Steps

Understanding by Design is one of the most fundamental texts and philosophies for planning a lesson and being a teacher.  We all know the importance of planning lessons around the skills objectives and learning targets set forth by our respective schools/ districts/ states/ federal government.  But, what does this mean in practicality?  What does it mean to “begin with the end in mind”?

It means this:  going from MACRO to MICRO. 

These are the terms that I use constantly as I’m planning out any unit or any lesson.  MACRO as well all know means the larger scale picture.  When I’m planning a lesson, I literally ask myself, “Ok, what’s my Macro for this activity?”  Basically, what I’m saying is, “What’s the point of this activity?  Why am I having my students do this?”  MICRO, on the other hand, means the smaller scale picture, the zoomed-into-focus specific lesson and skill that will get us to the MACRO.  In other words, MACRO is the outside structure of the house, and MICRO is the interior of the house.

This terminology all came about when I was teaching at THE SCHOOL THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED, and our department chair mandated that every teacher in the department must take 10 homework grades, 5 quiz grades, give 2 tests and 1 essay over the course of the marking period.  So, I did just that.  I checked my boxes and met the requirements.  But I have to admit that I really struggled taking those 10 homework grades.  I struggled coming up with homework assignments to grade because my students completed 100% of their work in their Notebooks and Writing Folders.  And it showed.  One day in class, one of my 11th graders said to me, “These homework assignments are completely arbitrary.”  And he was right.  I explained to him that I was required to take those ten grades.  It was my job.  And that’s when I realized that this prescriptive grading philosophy, while designed to create fair grading practices among teachers across the department, had forced me to create assignments for the sake of the assignment without the MACRO in mind.  I know some of you out there have been in this position, and it’s a real challenge.  But let’s talk about ways to design your lessons so that you can connect the MACRO to the MICRO as you plan.

Step #1) Break the standards into skills and sort them by units.

One of the tools I use to do this for a unit plan, is the Spore Scope Graphic Organizer.  Here is a sample Spore Scope that I've put together for a unit on Personal Narrative.

This graphic organizer is an excellent tool for planning out the end of year goals followed by each individual unit’s goals.  I use this tool to just brainstorm ways to group skills at first as I go through the list of standards I need to meet by the end of the school year.  You can simply drag and drop skills onto the different spores as you sort out how you will group them—which skills you will teach in which semester, in which unit, and so on.  It’s a great tool to keep the MACRO ideas organized.

Step #2)  Decide upon the best methods, texts, and practices to teach each skill.

The next step is to take each Spore Scope and then to begin breaking it down into unit plans that will contain specific texts and best practices.  This is the part where you begin getting into the MICRO and linking it to the MACRO.  This is also where you begin to make your text selections.  Too often as English teachers, we fall into the trap of teaching a specific text because it’s a “classic” or because we just happen to “love” it or because it’s just always been taught in school.  But in reality, we should be selecting texts based on the MACRO.  Which text is best for teaching foreshadowing?  Which text is best at modeling the frame narrative technique?  Which text is better for teaching rhetoric?  It’s important to go from MACRO to MICRO when making these decisions.  Check out the following sample unit plan.

Notice this curriculum map doesn't sequence anything but merely assigns specific skills, texts, and best practices to a marking period.

Notice this curriculum map doesn't sequence anything but merely assigns specific skills, texts, and best practices to a marking period.

This map provides a visual way to sort and sequence the MACRO products students will produce alongside the MICRO level of specific pieces of literature.

This map provides a visual way to sort and sequence the MACRO products students will produce alongside the MICRO level of specific pieces of literature.

Step #3) Focus in even more and create day-by-day lessons to connect the MACRO to the MICRO.

As you can see, the unit plan takes a step closer to bridging the MACRO and the MICRO.  But, this is not the final step.  The next step is to break this down even smaller and start to actually plan out specific lessons and write targeted goals/ objectives for each one.  This means getting out the calendar and beginning to experiment with various sequences to best go from MACRO to MICRO.

Here is one of my sample calendars from 12th grade English:

Notice that on my calendars, I write specific assignments that will target my overall objectives.  

Notice that on my calendars, I write specific assignments that will target my overall objectives.  

Note that it is always a good idea to leave open one day per week for extra time, reteaching and/or enrichment.  This is not represented by this calendar plan from 2012.  

Note that it is always a good idea to leave open one day per week for extra time, reteaching and/or enrichment.  This is not represented by this calendar plan from 2012.  

Step #4) Double-check that you have met every single skills objective and enduring understanding from Step #1, the Spore Scope.

After I put items on the calendar, I then go into each specific lesson and type out my goals/ objectives for every single one while referencing the Spore Scope Graphic Organizer.  As I go through each lesson, I use a highlighter to mark off every single skill and objective that is met.  That way, I can easily see if there’s something I left out and need to go back and add into a lesson or move to the next unit.

Step #5) Have students monitor their own progress and reflect back upon the skills they have worked on.

These will become the exact same objectives that I write on the board at the beginning of every class.  It’s also a great idea to give your students a copy of the Spore Scope Graphic Organizer and have them highlight the skills and objectives and reflect back upon them as you go through each unit.  This way they can keep track of their own learning and progress.  One of the tools I use to do this is the Common Core One Sheet.

Since I teach in a Common Core state and am rated according to Danielson, it’s important that I show evidence of my students taking charge of their own learning, and every single lesson must be connected to the Common Core.  Imagine how much time it would take me to assign every single lesson a Common Core skill!  I have my students do this themselves so that they can see how I am taking them from MACRO to MICRO.   This also brings the curriculum process full circle, from teacher to student.  It starts with the teacher on the MACRO level and ends with the student on the MICRO level. 

So, those are FIVE steps for planning lessons from MACRO to MICRO.  What other graphics and/or methods do you use to get from MACRO to MICRO?  Leave your ideas in the comments below.