Woodcutting: Changing the Ritual

After getting my Enduring Understandings finished last week, I next sought out to write Essential Questions. I’ve never felt before like I’ve been successful writing EQ’s the first time I plan a unit; I frequently only realized the real EQ as I taught.

This shouldn’t have surprised me. In the past, I’ve always written EQ’s before creating my assessments and lesson outlines, which is explicitly what UbD suggests you’re not supposed to do. UbD insists that though there are three stages of planning, the first of which involves crafting understandings and essential questions, these stages of planning do not happen linearly. Stage 1 is a good place to start, but it’s not the only place to start. The key is ensuring that all three stages work together in the end. As commenters both online and off have pointed out when seeing my understandings, they don’t mean much without the assessments that go with them; it’s only natural that they go hand in hand.

(The next two paragraphs are really technical and jargonny. Feel free to skip if you have no idea or interest in what I’m writing about.)

Unfortunately, there is a practice that is increasingly common in NYC schools that does not allow for this natural unit planning to occur: the practice of curriculum mapping. At my old school, I can take a large amount of responsibility for the emphasis that has been placed on this in recent years.

I have nothing against curricular mapping to start the year. In fact, I think it’s incredibly important and necessary step to come up with units, the relevant content and skills for each, as well as the timeframe. The problem when curricular mapping is married to Stage 1 and Stage 2 of UbD. It doesn’t make sense to develop EQ’s, Understandings, and major assessments independent of the plan for how you’re going to help students learn what they need to be successful. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to be developing Understandings and EQ’s independent of the instructional sequence of units.

I hit a wall when I started developing my essential questions. It was relatively straight forward for me to come up with a draft list of questions for my first two units, but I was really struggling with the rest. And that shouldn’t have surprised me: I have a clear idea of the instructional sequence for the the first two units, and not for anything else.

So I’m changing the plan for my ritual. I’m going to plan units in their entirety, and then use that information to create the curricular map I need to submit. Realistically, I will be able to do decent plans for the first semester; the rest can wait until I know my students better.

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