UTE Reflection Consider how teaching this unit gives you insight into teaching other units in the future. Think broadly, not in terms of teaching this unit again but how it will inform your teaching of units across other content areas and possibly in other grade levels. Use evidence to consider the planning, design, teaching and learning that takes place in ways that will inform your teaching practice. What did you learn about designing a unit of instruction that you can apply to future unit planning?
What kinds of activities/tasks seemed the most generative in terms of student learning? What are the structures of the unit plan that were the most helpful in supporting your teaching? What would you change, add or do differently in designing a unit in the future? Backwards design Forming routines Over planning Planning progressively Technology—it will take longer than you expect! Allowing students to talk and collaborate alleviates stress to help all students Popular media and culture are good sources of engagement—make content meaningful BUT make sure to make the connection visible
While I was facilitating the unit I was highly aware of the effectiveness and benefit of using backward design. Up until the UTE I had always thought about backward design in terms of individual lessons; however, over the last two months I discovered its utility for planning and carrying out an entire unit. When we (Kylie Brigham and I) initially set out to plan the unit we thought that we should plan the entire unit, including several mini-lessons, prior to its start.
We originally planned to divide the task of designing the mini-lessons between us and plan them over our Spring vacation; however, after developing our Unit Calendar, we realized that one) we had plenty of time to create the lesson plans and did not need to scramble to complete them in a week, and two) that it did not make sense to create all of lesson plans before we got a sense of how much time it would take to accomplish all of our goals for the unit. This realization, I believe, was fundamental to the success of the unit. Kylie and I planned the lessons progressively.
Each lesson was planned only a few days before it was facilitated. Each week we gauged the progress of the students towards our learning objectives and adjusted the mini-lessons to compensate for missed opportunities, or move the unit along. It was immediately apparent that integrating new technology into the unit was going to take much longer than we anticipated. The students were much less familiar with the Schoology interface (very similar to Facebook) than we predicted. As a result, we extended the introduction an extra day so that students had the opportunity to explore and familiarize themselves with its numerous features.
Initially we planned on counting the students’ first Schoology post as a grade; however, when it became clear that the students still did not have a handle on the interface and the format of the responses, we used it as a learning opportunity and I treated it like a trial-run and provided the students with feedback that they could use as a reference for their next Schoology Posting Day. The need for extra time for Schoology posting continued throughout the unit, but we had already built “wiggle room” into our unit plan, so we were able to accommodate those who needed extra time and still accomplish all of our other planned tasks for the week.
In addition, progressive planning gave us the opportunity to experiment with different types of activities (whole class discussions, rote note taking, small group work/discussions, whole class activities, individual application, etc. ) and determine which were most engaging and effective. Rote note taking, as expected, was the least engaging teaching method; however, we found that saturating PowerPoints with real world examples (especially those related to popular culture and current media! ) kept the students engaged enough to process the academic content.
Once we realized that the student enjoyed applying the concepts and vocabulary to entities of popular culture we ran with it and created activities that produced high levels of engagement. For example, the highlights of the unit were the character plotting activity and the propaganda discussion, both had a foundation in media. The only drawback to using media to engage students is that it is easy for the conversation to explode and get off-topic, I’m thinking specifically about the propaganda discussion.
In the future, I will be more deliberate about the purpose of media integration, and focus more on making its relevance to the lesson more visible. Use your summative assessment to discuss what students learned from the unit. What are the big ideas that students learned from the unit? Did students learn what you planned for them to learn? What strategies for documenting and examining student understanding seemed to further student learning? In retrospect, while the summative unit assessment was an engaging alternative to something like term paper, it did not assess all that the students learned throughout the unit.
The focus of the assessment was entirely on the students understanding and response to the essential question: Is technology advancing or destroying society (according to you science fiction novel)? While the students’ understanding of this question was the end goal, I feel that I walked away not knowing whether or not the students retained any information from the other mini-lessons. The only mini-lesson that was assessed in the Glogster project was the propaganda lesson, which wasn’t related to science fiction at all; rather it was used to enhance that aesthetic appeal of the students’ products.
Based on the results of the summative assessment I would say that the students had a firm understanding of the essential question. The grades on the Glogster project were for the most part pretty high; a majority of the points were missed due to small details, missing elements, only in a couple cases did I get the sense that a student could not answer the question. Despite the fact that the summative unit assessment did not evaluate the students’ understanding of the mini-lesson concepts, summative mini-lesson assessments provided me with a sense of the students’ comprehension of the concepts.
Each week the students were individually (with one exception) assessed on their understanding of the mini-lesson. The students responded in short essay writings to prompts that required them to apply concepts from the mini-lesson to their assigned novel. These assessments gave me a sense of which students were keeping up with the reading, who was able to apply and not just regurgitate literary concepts, and who had not yet mastered the material. Due to the extended nature of the unit, I believe that the most useful assessments were formative assessments, such as the small group tasks. Again, the character plotting activity comes to mind.
During this type of activity the students had an opportunity to see the relevance of the lesson to everyday life. The students furthered their understanding of the vocabulary terms by applying the definitions to various scenarios. Moreover, while students worked in small groups, they had the chance to learn from one another before presenting to the class. Students continued to learn from their peers during the whole class discussion of the small group answers. At this point in time I was also able to gauge the students’ understanding and discuss and correct any misunderstandings immediately.
If I noticed that students were struggling with a particular concept, I could ask the rest of the class to respond. I did not simply correct a student error; instead, I prompted the students to think about why an answer did not make sense. For example, we spent a great deal of time discussing why Neville Longbottom, from the Harry Potter series might be considered a flat static character in isolate novels, but a round dynamic character when looking at the series as a whole. The students were able to take ownership of their learning during these activities and really have a chance to display their understanding and work through the content.
I will certainly continue to use built-in formative assessments in the future. The enacting of the Science Fiction Unit also made me realize two more important things. The first is that the format of assessments needs to correspond with the format of the teaching/activities in the lesson. If the lesson takes a concept-based approach, then the evaluation needs to be concept-based as well. Similarly, if the lesson takes an application-based approach, then the evaluation needs to be application-based as well. I need to assess what I am teaching, I cannot expect accurate results of student nderstanding if I am not actually testing them on what I am teaching them. The second revelation that I had while enacting the unit was the importance and utility of routine structures. It took nearly the entire unit to acquaint the students with the book club procedure and expectations. I believe that by the final week they successfully conducted a meaningful book club discussion independently; however, there were missed opportunities at the start of the unit for quality discussions. In the future I will likely make small group discussions a classroom routine.
Students will meet weekly or bi-weekly to discuss a variety of topics, thus when it is time for them to facilitate their own book club discussions, they are familiar with the format and expectations. In my placement classroom I envision these discussions centering on Word Generation topics, the Capstone Research Paper, assigned novels and genres, as well as the upcoming Portfolio Day. This type of routine would certainly need to be introduced gradually, and with a great deal of scaffolding and support, but the extra time taken at the beginning of the year will likely pay off.