Unit Building

  • With the standards foundation in place, design each curricular unit of study, from start to finish. Here is a synopsis of each of the 12 sequential steps for doing so. Be sure all of these elements (except the weekly and daily planners) appear in the agreed upon unit planner organizer.

    “Unwrap” the Unit Priority Standards. “Unwrap” the assigned Priority Standards for each specific unit of study to determine the specific, teachable concepts and skills (what students need to know and be able to do) within those standards.
    Create a Graphic Organizer. Create a graphic organizer (outline, bulleted list, concept map, or chart) as a visual display of the “unwrapped” concepts and skills, organized into three sections: one that lists the teachable concepts, one that lists each skill with its related concept(s), and one that shows the approximate levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge for each concept-skill pair. Matching each skill and related concept(s) with the thinking skill levels reveals the skill’s degree of rigor.
    Decide the Big Ideas and Essential Questions. Decide the topical Big Ideas (foundational understandings, student “aha’s”) derived from the “unwrapped” concepts and skills for that unit of study. Write Essential Questions that will engage students to discover for themselves the related Big Ideas and state them in their own words by the end of the unit.
    Create the End-of-Unit Assessment. Create the end-of-unit assessment (either individual classroom or common formative post-assessment) directly aligned to the “unwrapped” Priority Standards and their levels of rigor. Include a blend of multiple-choice, short constructed-response, and extended constructed-response questions. Align the concepts, skills, and format of the end-of-unit assessment with district benchmark assessments (K-8) or midterms and finals/end-of-course exams (9-12). Reference SBAC or PARCC sample assessment items to ensure that end-of-unit assessment questions reflect the same rigor, formats, and vocabulary of these items.
    Create the Unit Pre-Assessment. Create the pre-assessment aligned or “mirrored” to the post-assessment. “Aligned” means the questions are directly matched to those on the post-assessment but may be fewer in number. “Mirrored” means the pre-assessment will include the exact number and type of questions that will appear on the post-assessment.
    Identify Additional Vocabulary Terms, Interdisciplinary Connections, and 21st-Century Learning Skills. In addition to the vocabulary of the “unwrapped” Priority Standards concepts, identify other specific academic or technical vocabulary from the supporting standards and text materials that students will need to learn during the unit. Identify any interdisciplinary connections and 21st-century learning skills to emphasize when planning engaging learning experiences and related instruction.
    Plan Engaging Learning Experiences. Design meaningful learning activities directly based upon the “unwrapped” concepts and skills, additional vocabulary terms, interdisciplinary connections, and 21st-century learning skills. Plan engaging learning experiences-authentic performance tasks with real-world applications-that challenge students to utilize deep thought, investigation, and communication. Create accompanying scoring guides (rubrics) as the means for obtaining objective evidence of student learning relative to the standards in focus. Confirm that the planned learning experiences will give students the conceptual and procedural understanding of the “unwrapped” concepts and skills represented on the end-of-unit post-assessment and “deliver” students to the Big Ideas of the unit.
    Gather Resources Materials. Gather print materials and seek out technology resources that support the planned learning experiences for the unit. Select the most appropriate instructional resources and materials available that will assist students in learning and applying the “unwrapped” concepts and skills and discovering the Big Ideas.
    Select High-Impact Instructional Strategies. Select high-impact instructional strategies (research-based, differentiation, enrichment, intervention, special education, English language learner) to use during instruction and related learning activities with the whole class, with small groups, and with individual students that have specific learning needs.
    Detail the Unit Planning Organizer. Determine what additional details are needed to supplement the generally worded information on the unit planning organizer. For example: an instructional pacing and sequence of the “unwrapped” concepts and skills based on “learning progressions” (the sequence of concepts and skills students need to know and be able to do as prerequisites for learning the next set of concepts and skills); a listing of key teaching points, and suggested instructional strategies for specific students based on their learning needs (advanced students, at-risk students, special education students, English language learners) that teachers can reference when planning differentiated lessons and unit activities.
    Create Informal Progress-Monitoring Checks: Find, design, or suggest quick, informal checks for student understanding (exit slips, short-answer questions, thumbs up/down, etc.) - aligned to the end-of-unit assessment and administered in conjunction with “learning progressions” - for educators to use during the unit of study in order to gauge student understanding and adjust instruction accordingly.
    Write the Weekly Plan; Design the Daily Lesson.** Write the weekly lesson plan to implement the unit of study in weekly “installments,” using it to guide and focus instruction of the targeted “unwrapped” concepts and skills and engage students in the planned learning experiences and assessments. Design the daily lessons to align with the related weekly plan. (**Note: These are the tasks of classroom teachers, not the curriculum designers, although curriculum design teams can create weekly and daily blank planners that align with the other RCD planners.)(Getting Started with Rigorous Curriculum Design p. 136)