Thursday, November 18, 2010

Creating Year Plans

I know its an odd time of year to discuss this, but I will be working one-on-one with a teacher next week looking at the outcomes/standards for Language Arts 9 and helping her create a year plan that really addresses the big ideas.  I have worked with teachers on this in the last year and really enjoy a day spent looking at the big ideas of a course of study.  I am also reading ‘Rigorous Curriculum Design’ by Larry Ainsworth to get more perspective on the process.  Here is the process that I use to organize the standards into units and create a timeline for teaching.

Ainsworth says there are five foundational steps to creating a strong curriculum foundation.  They are:
1.      Prioritize the Standard
2.      Name the Units of Study
3.      Assign Priority Standards and Supporting Standards
4.      Prepare a Pacing Calendar
5.      Construct the Unit Planning Organizer

Prioritizing standards doesn’t mean eliminating some… it means realizing that some of the standards have more bang for their buck in terms of endurance, leverage and readiness.  These standards are priority and the standards that lead you to those will be supporting.  Many of us naturally prioritize standards as we teach in that we spend more time on some standards and less on others.  We create projects around some standards and use others simply as class discussion starts.  Some of us prioritize outcomes without intending to… if you don’t get to the last unit of study, you’ve prioritized it out of your curriculum.  Having the conversation with colleagues about priority standards helps us be more intentional about which ones we are emphasizing.

Ainsworth discusses that there are three types of units: topical, skill-based and thematic.  A year plan can have any combination of those three.  In working with teachers in the past I find that sometimes it’s nice to flip-flop step 2 and 3.  We didn’t name the units until we ‘chunked’ the standards into units of commonality.  If you struggle to find the relationship between the units you are currently teaching, you might try chunking the standards first and seeing what units you’ve created.  A Social Studies teacher I worked with found that she was able to make more sense of how Athens, Iroquois, Provincial government and National government all tied together when she quit teaching in the order of the textbook.  She was better able to wrap her own head around the big ideas of Democracy and convey them to her students once she decided the groupings of standards for herself.

In order to assign standards to units, I have teachers make a single sided photocopy of the standards and cut them up individually.  We then use a large table and start placing them into different areas of the table according to what fits together.  Teachers who have initially resisted the idea of actively cutting the standards have found value in it once they tried it because it becomes very obvious which standards haven’t been addressed and which units have too many priority standards so will become unwieldy when we try to pull it all together at the end. Having them laid out in front of you allows you to visualize the big picture of how the outcomes intermesh to form your course. You can use colored paper to indicate priority standards or skill-based standards for visual effect.

In order to create a pacing calendar count the number of class periods for the subject. Set yourself up for success, even though you may have 180 teaching days for the year, this needs to be the actual number of periods you will teach the subject (don’t count periods that are used for Christmas concert, field trips etc...)  Divide this number by the number of units you have created.  Now, use your professional judgement and adjust the time according to emphasis. As you can see in the graphic, my unit B will take more time than Units A&C.  Just make sure the total time for all units still adds up to the total periods you said you would be teaching the subject.

 You now have a timeline with the standards that will be addressed in each unit.  From there you can begin to create unit plans… This process I’ve outlined takes several hours.  To really delve into the standards and chunk them into solid units takes time. 

As life unfolds in a classroom, year plans get adapted and changed.  What you create is not set in stone… It’s a PLAN. We need to treat it as such. But if we intentionally create one and intentionally check back in on it as the year progresses, then we can adapt purposely to meet the needs of our students while still focusing on the big ideas of our course of study.

How have you created year plans? How do you ensure that you’re intentionally creating units based on the big ideas of the course?

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