I hope my students never find this blog.
Last unit was a bit of a disaster, between me just starting to go gradeless, teaching the kids some apps, and standardized testing.
Standardized testing is done on Tuesday, so then we go back to our regular schedule. Yay! That means Monday and Tuesday I’ll be finishing up the Reformation and Wednesday we’ll start China.
I’m doing a lot of things at once. The HSS Framework was rolled out this year and I’m one of the district leads on reading the document and parsing it out for other social studies teachers to understand and implement. I like the HSS Framework. It’s much better teaching than the NCLB dates-and-names bubble in tests stuff, but it’s going to involve a bit of a sea change as we shift from trying to cover everything to picking-and-choosing what we cover. In other words, public school history teaching is about to become a lot more like college history instruction than like, well, public school history teaching. A few subjects, in depth, and an emphasis on skills. The fact of the matter is, with so much information online and readily available, we’re going to need to teach a lot more research and evaluation skills and require our students to memorize much less. So, less direct instruction. (Which of course means that in 20 years there’s going to be an enormous rise in ‘why didn’t my teacher teach me that fact/story/bit of knowledge in school?’, but that’s another problem for someone else’s classroom.)
I am also changing technologies. When I started, I hand-wrote direct instruction notes under the document camera, per period, which was a pain. Then I got a smartboard and put everything on that. The district decided not to support smartboards. So I got a Chromebook cart and I’m transferring everything from Smartboard software to Google. In a couple years we’ll probably move on from that, but at least Google Slides download as powerpoints so I won’t have to literally recreate the wheel. I’m moving on from direct instruction, but I can provide the Slides/PPTs as an additional resource for my kids.
So I’m doing a lot, which is why I’m also going gradeless now. Why not convert everything at once, and while they’re in 7th grade? I’ll be busier than a cat in a laser pointer testing facility, but it needs doing, especially if I want to get the bulk of falling on my face over with before they hit 8th grade.
With that in mind, I decided to adopt the unit plan ideas found in Dueck’s Grading Smarter, Not Harder. (Note: I get no kickbacks from any of this. My principal bought the whole faculty this book last year.) I incorporated ideas I’ve been absorbing from the TGG Group on Facebook, including comments along the lines of “don’t assign so much work!”. That goes with the more in-depth focus on history anyway. It’s better to give them fewer assignments and expect more quality and more revisions than it is to give them a bunch of assignments we only look at once. I sat down today at noonish to start the unit plan and I’m done long about 4:30. In doing so I cut out about half the stuff on China I typically teach.
I cannot for the life of me remember what initials to use with the Common Core standards, so I just left some random letters. I’ll fix it tomorrow when I can ask the English department. I’ll be giving this to the kids on Wednesday, and we’ll spend the whole period going over it. On Thursday they’ll start work. I’m going to give them a little more structure in terms of working; letting them learn time management the hard way is fine for single assignments, but for units they’ll need help staying on task. I have a set of magnets (again, no kickbacks) that I use on my white board to create a living chart of where students are in a process. The kids love moving their magnet along. It’s kind of like a game for them.
So according to this, I’m only going to be assessing 3 products. The map, a slide show, and a paragraph. They will be using May 31 to look at the slides from someone in a different period and evaluate them according to a rubric, which I will return to the students who made the slide shows.
I’ve provided two extension activities for my handful of kids who get stuff done quickly and accurately. I’m going to make sure they understand that if they finish their general work and then just sit around and chat, distracting others, that I will not agree that they’ve demonstrated excellence in my classroom – i.e., not evidence for an A. The subjects of the extension activities are interesting and should give them something extra to do.
I have never given the kids a unit plan before and to be honest I haven’t really made one since my credential program (which I apparently graduated from 6 years ago today!). This is not to say I’m an unorganized teacher. I always know what I’m going to do, and I do weekly lesson plans/schedules which I turn in to administration. I’m just reframing what I’m doing and making it more student-friendly.
I’ll take what I learn from this and use it on my Japanese unit, which starts June 1. I already have my essential questions and readings from that–I did those to see what prerequisite knowledge they’d need from the China unit. So making that unit plan shouldn’t take nearly as long. I mean, I won’t need to read 7 chapters of the textbook two Sundays from now.