Begin with the End in Mind

The book Understanding by Design outlines a thoughtful method of designing “curriculum, assessment, and instruction – focused on developing and deepening understanding of important ideas.” (McTighe, 2005) The method introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe requires the educator to deeply examine the purposes and intents of a course or unit of study. It takes into account what students should know, understand or be able to do as a result of learning. Teachers must ask themselves at the beginning of planning, “What are the desired results for my students at the end of this course?”

Understanding by Design provides templates and guidance for helping teachers design significant learning through 3 stages. First they must consider what students need to understand, beyond knowledge and skills, as well as developing essential questions to guide the instruction. The second stage of the Understanding by Design method of planning is to determine acceptable evidence of the learning through performance tasks and other forms of assessment. In a significant learning environment, performance assessments should be authentic, and may vary from student to student based on interests and abilities. The third stage outlines the specific learning activities and acts as a guide, or a WHERETO, that shines a light on the path to effective lesson, unit or course design. Effective instructional design requires that the outcomes and goals are meaningfully aligned with the activities and assessments.

In an effort to create a significant learning environment for the students attending summer STREAM camp at our school libraries, I have used the Understanding by Design method. The STREAM Camp planned for students in grades 1-8 in my innovation plan, will be a different experience for every learner involved. The main goal of the camp is for students to have an enjoyable learning experience as they explore and participate in activities of their choice centered around STEM topics. As I am more of an organizer and not an instructor of the camp, this proposed design is merely a draft. There is not a formal curriculum or standards that students are expected to master during the camp. After students’ interests are surveyed and librarians have had an opportunity to organize specific activities, this plan will be modified. Also, the three day camp is a much more informal learning environment than a typical classroom or course. The goals are more focused on exploration and gaining interests than mastering specific standards. The design template below will incorporate a few, but not all of learning activity opportunities for our STEAM Camp, which students will attend for a total of nine hours.

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

—Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989, p. 98

Previously I used Fink’s 3 Column Table to plan Significant Learning Environment Outcomes for STREAM Camp. Both of the planning methods gave me much to consider. The benefit of the 3 Column Table from Fink’s Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning is that it takes into account the bigger picture of the group of students, including the human dimension and how learners learn. It assumes that each kind of learning can stimulate other kinds of learning. Design for Understanding felt more effective at guiding the educator to specifically pinpoint what students need to understand in order to achieve and how they can get there. Going through each planning process has given me the tools I need to help the librarians create a significant learning environment during the three days of STREAM camp. Students will reap the benefit of our thorough planning.

Begin with the End in Mind Planning Document in Google Docs

Begin with the End in Mind Planning PDF for download

This book is very useful tool for educators that are designing a unit of study using the Understanding by Design method.
Read Chapter 1 of Essential Questions on the ASCD website.


We can have high standards without standardization.

Grant Wiggins



One Comment on “Begin with the End in Mind

  1. Pingback: Creating Significant Learning Environments – A Reflection | Holly D. Landez ePortfolio

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