Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Planning with the big picture in mind?

No matter what age child you teach, it is important that you are planning with purpose. Not flying by the seat of your pants. Over the years, I have seen teachers who are very good at making it look like they know what they are doing, except that under closer observation it was obvious that what they were doing was staying one step ahead of the kids. Not good. To make an impact on the learning of the individuals in your classes you have to plan. One of the best ways to do this is to develop the unit plan.

Unit plans are standards-based. Make sure that you have identified the standard(s) and broken it (them) down to its(their) components so that your unit plans address the standards of the content.

The unit plan helps you focus on the big picture of what you are trying to get the kids to understand. You identify a (flexible) time frame of about 10 days to three weeks. Create an essential question that is part of your goal for the students. This is an open-ended question that cannot be answered with a word, sentence, or a phrase. Other elements such as the key question (s) are important as well. I will come back to essential questions and key questions in another blog entry.

Within the design of the unit plan, it is important to identify essential vocabulary that is necessary for the students to understand to be successful at the essence of the unit. As a note, essential vocabulary cannot be 30 words. Narrow it down. Vocabulary drives lessons and understanding. Spend time with creating understanding of the content words, but not by memorizing lists.

A good practice is to create a section where you ask yourself, " How will I know that they are learning?"
Part of your answer will be how you will use formative assessment to check for understanding. This is extremely important! Teaching is about the students learning. You need to take time to determine what progress they are making. (As a note, this is where differentiation starts to become possible.)

Finally, you need to make a section that asks, "What will I do to make my lessons engaging?" This is not meant to be an essay, but two or three activities that you identify to get the students actively involved in the unit.

If you create a unit plan that addresses these areas, you have in writing something that will help you to address the needs of the kids and make sure that you are not taking shortcuts.

I have included a sample unit plan that you could modify for your own uses.

Remember that planning is not meant to be something that someone made you do. It is about creating a recipe for success for the kids! don't say...I don't have time. Just do it! (Apologies to NIKE).

Helpful resources:
Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe