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Planning the Best Curriculum Unit Ever

Planning the Best Curriculum Unit Ever

25 April, 2016

When educators engage learners, enhance ability and understanding, and amplify students’ identities, we call them “transformational teachers” — professionals who give learners with disciplinary View-Masters so that kids can see the world in stereoscope.

But how do they prepare? Do they just show up for class and spontaneously uncork the awesome?

Obviously not.

Behind the scenes, transformational teachers work hard over curriculum plans that look simple and even elegant to classroom observers.

How to Plan Transformational Lessons

  1. Know the Standards, Curriculum, Core Concepts, and Strategies

For decades, many educators let a textbook’s table of contents decide the scope and sequence of a course. Today, transformational teachers are aware their anchor standards by heart and recognize the difference between teaching strategies and learning strategies:

  • Teaching strategies are methods that teachers implement to improve student learning. Example: whole-class discussion or presentation.
  • Learning strategies are initiated and regulated by students to solve problems and increase their understanding. Example: using freewriting, brainstorming, and outlining to organize ideas.

Balancing teaching strategies with learning strategies keeps instructors and students actively involved and focused on the same purpose.

  1. Shift From Solo to Collaborative Lesson Design

As teachers obtain fluency in using Padlet, Google Hangouts, Evernote, Skype, Dropboxr, Hackpad, Google Drive, and Chatzy, collaborative planning is becoming second nature.

Additionally, more sharing of pertinent curriculum is occurring via terrific open education resources (OER) like EngageNY, OER Commons, CK-12, and even iTunesU.

  1. Create the Assessment Before Developing Content

Because in part to the influence of Understanding by Design (UbD) by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, transformational instructors no longer “teach then test” but rather they “design the test, then teach.” By making formative assessment and performance task checkpoints into their plans, instructors are aware when and why students don’t understand a skill or concept.

  1. Write Objectives for Students (Not an Administrator) to Read

Before, teachers submitted lesson plans for their principals to check. In many cases, the administrator remained the primary audience for written objectives. Today, objectives are posted and made comprehensible to students. To guarantee clarity, transformational teachers follow the Goldilocks rule. Objectives can’t be too general (“students will learn about the Civil War”) or too narrow, because narrow objectives “put you in danger of listing activities or assignments,” writes Robyn R. Jackson in Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching.

Here’s another objective hack: to add relevance to the curriculum, simply add the stem “so that. . .” at the end of each posted objective as a way of describing how the skill and content will benefit students. Example: “Students will be able to evaluate the credibility of sources so that they can protect our democracy from the influence of those spreading misinformation.”

  1. Create Presentations That Do More Showing and Less Telling

On the rare occasion that transformational teachers lecture, they are sure to use visuals, created with tools like Canva and Pic Monkey. Using pictures can “banish boredom,” asserts Dan Roam, author of Show and Tell. To keep pace with the 30 percent of students who access online videos for homework assistance, teachers’ materials have become more interactive and optimized for mobile device consumption.

  1. Don’t Forget the Introverts

“Introverts like to work autonomously,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “but the trend in education over the past 20 years has been focused on group learning.” Cain notes that well-known teaching strategies like cold calling don’t let introverts time to process what they want to say. Adding a think-pair-share activity or increasing wait time to seven seconds after asking a question plays to the strengths of introverts.

  1. Provide More Chances for Students to Choose How They Accomplish Tasks

Danah Boyd’s research identified that teenagers’ lives are over-programmed: “[C]ontemporary teens often have little freedom to connect with others on their own terms. . .A boost to student motivation can occur, says Kevin Perks in Crafting Effective Choices to Motivate Students, if we let learners determine — when possible — whom they work with, content, due dates, where to work, and how they will complete tasks.

  1. Plan Ahead

Transformational teachers plan at least a month ahead, building in flextime to absorb inevitable weather- or activity-related interruptions in the school schedule. Through careful design, each time a learner encounters skills and concepts, they are more challenging. The spiral curriculum approach increases understanding and retention.

  1. Integrate Productive Struggle Into the Curriculum

Lubricating the learning process with frictionless turn-in-the-worksheet compliance does not give students chances for productive struggle — a condition significant for learning and retention, according to an article by Richard Schmidt and Robert Bjork in Psychological Science. When students struggle, relax. Don’t lower the expectations of your next lesson plan. Instead, scaffold instruction  and check to see that you are challenging students appropriately with Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix.

Quality curriculum planning — publically unacknowledged, unglamorous, and taxing — is ultimately the golden road to Areté (Homer’s word for exemplary effectiveness). Undoubtedly, the doctrines of effective planning will soon change, because transformational teachers never stop learning.