This post is the second in a series on unit design and the CCLS. You may find the first one here.
I have always had a passion for curriculum design. Like writing, it inspires us to think of our audience first: who they are, what they love, what they need, and how we can tuck important lessons into even the darkest corners of the experience. Designing quality units requires us to consider what’s most essential, which understandings must endure, and how we can create opportunities for all learners to use their gifts and talents in service to themselves and others as they learn. It also empowers us to act as diagnosticians, particularly when we attend carefully to the alignment between what we write, teach, and assess.
All of the teachers that I am working with began approaching curriculum design by exploring the modules (which most characterize as lesson plans or extended tasks) provided by SED. They watched David Coleman’s Introduction to the Common Core Learning Standards and his demonstration of close reading as well. We also unpacked the exemplars provided at EngageNY and identified how the practices revealed within these pieces align to the CCLS and to the six big shifts. Many questions emerged from these experiences and because people were forthright about their needs, we’ve been able to begin providing targeted support relevant to those practices that teachers are feeling less confident about.
A unit is far more comprehensive than a lesson plan or an extended task, and as we design them together, I feel this is helping teachers come to know the standards and the instructional shifts that underpin them much better than lesson or task planning alone might. I know that unit design isn’t mandated within the Race to the Top initiative this year, but I’m confident that working with the CCLS in this way has inspired important shifts in perspective and practice. It’s also enabled me to identify where deeper work must continue, in order to fully align curricula.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with different unit design processes, protocols, templates, and tools. Last week, I shared some specifics about the processes I’ve begun with teachers. My processes do not replace those that districts already value,though. They align with them and enrich them in ways that serve everyone well. Each of the districts that I am working in this year rely on approaches and tools that are heavily influenced by the Understanding by Design process conceptualized by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. I’ve bookmarked some of my favorite UbD resources here, for those who may be interested.
Eager to deepen your understanding of high quality unit design even further? Begin with this sample chapter of Changing the Way You Teach, Improving the Way Students Learn, and when you are done, go ahead and pick up the whole book.
You may also want to consider Anthony Petrosky’s perspectives on rigor and the way he approaches scaffolding within unit architectures.
My work with teachers has been significantly influenced by these experts and the examples, tools, and resources they’ve shared with me in different settings over the years. I know that others in our region are relying on the work that has emerged from The Thoughtful Classroom as well.
We began and will continue our work with unit design because doing so enables us to frame a year of coherent learning and assessment experiences. After individual units are completed collaboratively by teams, each teacher then designs an aligned lesson plan or extended task that applies the recommended instructional shifts.
How are you approaching unit design with the Common Core?