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Meet Standards With Backwards Mapping · Mrs. P’s Specialties


While many states have a set of adapted standards for students in special education, students may still struggle to meet the standards. There is hope! Use backwards mapping to create a plan for students to break through the barriers and start meeting standards.

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What is backwards mapping?

Backwards mapping is when you start with what the end goal is. Then you work backwards to create a plan for achieving the goal or standard. Here are the steps:

  1. Chose a standard your students have trouble meeting.
  2. List out the skills the students need to have to meet it.
  3. Highlight the skills on the list that your students don’t have yet.
  4. Prioritize the skills you highlighted.
  5. Create lessons specifically for these skills.

Here’s an example of one I did for my class:

Backwards mapping example for science standard on collecting data

Why use backwards mapping

Using this technique to plan your lessons, centers and groups will help students specifically break down the barriers in the way of meeting standards. If we don’t address the barriers or things standing in the way of achieving a goal or standard, the students’ chances of meeting them decrease drastically.

Backwards mapping can be used for both writing and working towards IEP goals.

Breaking through the barriers

Once you have the list of priorities for your students, it’s time to create the lessons or instruction. Build in the support your students need to complete the activities successfully. For example, my students need a lot of visual supports when we first introduce concepts or skills.

Example of activity to target commenting and observations in backwards mapping

Use what you know about students…. their skill level and supports needed to be successful. In the example above, the students needed visual choices. They aren’t yet ready to generate answers without an answer bank. They also don’t yet write.

Every page of the booklet had a question that targeted commenting and making observations. For each question, there were 2 to 3 (depending on the student) visual choices for students to choose the answer from.

As students make progress, we decrease the supports and increase the expectations. Here are some possible ways to do this:

  • Increase the number of answer choices
  • Give only one visual cue of the type of answer you are looking for. For example, if the question is about color, have a picture of a color wheel rather than individual color choices to pick from.
  • Switch to a word bank
  • Have students copy the word into their booklet
  • Have students color or draw their answers

Again, choose the way to up the ante that best supports your students.

How to choose the standard to target

There are several ways you could choose which standard or standards to target with your students. Here are a few options:

  • Look at the results of their last assessment and choose the standards from there.
  • Use your district’s grade-level standards
  • Choose the standard from the list of essential elements if your state has a set of alternate assessment standards

Then decide if you want to choose a standard your students are close to meeting or one that they are struggling the most with.

Resources for the lessons

Here are some resources for common barriers to learning.

Yes/No Concepts:

Commenting & Observing:

Math Skills:

Writing Skills:

Reading Skills:

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