One way to design dynamic units with the Common Core? Don’t start with the Common Core

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Perhaps you’re more than little bit invested in the idea of increasing job satisfaction for yourself and for those that you work with even as you’re Racing to the Top. Perhaps you can appreciate the importance of starting with vision, of thinking bigger (and smaller) than the CCLS, and of honoring the distinction between evaluation and assessment throughout every phase of this work. Perhaps you understand that this is not the time to simply get stuff done in order to meet the demands of yet another mandate. Perhaps you have a hunch that if reform is going to happen, it’s going to begin with kids and with teachers and with administrators and yes, with parents too. Maybe you’d like it to emerge not from fear but from the collective passion, intelligence, and talent that all of these incredible people can bring to this system….if we let them.

Does this sound like you? Then we have a lot in common. I’d really love to know more about how these realizations inform your planning and your work with others.

Over the last four years, I’ve been helping teachers from a variety of districts design units and plans that are aligned to the CCLS.

I’ve tapped into their vision of the graduate they hope to produce and the teacher they long to become at the outset.

I’ve also invited them to begin these processes by considering questions like these:

  • What are your students longing to learn?
  • What engages them?
  • What do they need?
  • How could you design an incredibly meaningful learning experience for them in a way that will leave you feeling energized and enthusiastic about your work and the difference that you make for kids?
  • How could you position yourself as a learner within this process as well?
  • What are you excited to teach?
  • How would you love to teach it?
  • What’s stopping you from doing any of that?

Then I tell them to go right ahead and do exactly what they dream of doing. I invite them to design a unit or a lesson that truly inspires them and to do it in a way that will empower their kids.

Teachers don’t need to start with standards in order to accomplish this anymore than writers need a lesson on grammar or mechanics when they set out to write something that will set the world on fire. Over the years, I’ve found that starting with standards creates a bit of tunnel vision.

We all know that people don’t become teachers for the money, the prestige, or the (diminishing) amount of time that some of them have off each summer. They become teachers because they love learning, they want to inspire kids to love learning, and often, they have significant expertise about their content area to share. Teachers know more than enough about the conventions of unit or lesson design and standards to begin, and like writers, their work is more inspired if they begin with idea development first.

Voice.

Heart.

I begin unit and lesson design by giving these professionals the permission that they think they need to design powerful learning experiences for kids. Why do they think they need it? Well, I have a hunch that it’s because so many people keep suggesting that they do.

Once teachers have finished designing a unit that is aligned to their vision and to the needs of their students, we visit the standards document and identify those that are most relevant to their work. We unwrap them, and in the process, we often learn a great deal about where and even how we might enrich rigor or relevance. We consider how we could differentiate instruction. We think about what the standard says explicitly and what it implies.We adjust our units in response, and we adjust our perspectives about what might be possible, too.

We use the standards in service to our far, far greater vision.

We also give similar attention to the six instructional shifts that David Coleman speaks to and to the 21st Century skills, literacies, and fluencies that Silvia Tolisano speaks to so well here (thank you again, Silvia).

Each time I’ve approached curriculum design in this way, 95-100% of the total population of teachers that I am working with report that they agree or strongly agree with each of the following statements (via anonymous electronic survey):

      • This work is challenging me to grow my professional expertise.
      • I am feeling energized by my work and enthusiastic about the curriculum I am designing.
      • I feel that this work allows me to be creative.
      • I am approaching my work in a way that is mindful of the standards, my vision, and the difference I hope to make for learners.
      • This work is increasing my confidence and my levels of job satisfaction.

Sometimes, for varied reasons, I haven’t been able to work in these ways though.When this has been the case, responses have been different, so I think I may be on to something here……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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