Sunday, October 9, 2011

Next Steps: Thinking About Unit Design

Taking the time to determine High Priority Standards and Essential Curriculum (particularly for the two units on which your department will be focusing this year) provides background, context, and entry points for unit design.  This process is not linear; it is recursive and will require you to think back and forth across several elements as you and your department work to conceptualize and describe your units.
We are engaging in this process for several reasons:
  • Focusing our teaching on what is essential deepens our capacity to teach for understanding rather than just teaching to cover the curriculum,
  • Teaching what is essential provides more room for all students to access the learning and for us to plan and give feedback on student work regardless of whether we are intervening, extending, or holding steady on their behalf, and
  • Engaging in these conversations is to the benefit of our learning community and to our students.
Thinking about unit design is our next topic and following are some thoughts about it:
  • The "unit" by definition should embody a meaningful and connected chunk of learning events that build toward some important intellectual outcome in a way that short (often disconnected) daily lessons cannot (Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J., 2011, pp. 38-39).
  • Excellent units focus on transfer and how facts and skills are related to an overarching understanding and can be related to the "real life" discipline; excellent units do not focus on discreet facts or skills alone.
  • Lessons in a unit build toward complex performances and products.
There are many entry points into unit design.  For example:
  • Standards/Curriculum that have endurance, leverage, and readiness,
  • Important big ideas, or understandings, themes, or theories that are at the heart of a discipline and worth understanding,
  • Compelling questions which can be revisited at several levels of study within a discipline,
  • Performance strengths and weaknesses revealed by assessments,
  • A strong assessment that indicates a quality level of proficiency,
  • A powerful process or strategy that uses many important skills, or
  • An inquiry into a complex issue or problem.
Eventually, no matter what the entry point, the unit should provide evidence of all of the above.
In futher posts, I will share more about the structure of the unit as well as a template for creating the unit plan.

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