Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Importance of Unit Planning in a BOLD (Blended Learning)/21st Century Classroom

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to work closely with the Magen David Yeshivah blended learning teachers.  I created a blended learning template that I adapted from the original Grant Wiggins template on unit planning.  I am passionate about unit planning instead of lesson planning alone for all the reasons it has largely been adopted by most good school districts across the country.    The reasons I like it don't vary that much from other school's reasoning; however, I particularly like it in a blended/21st century classroom that and even more particularly find it necessary in a yeshiva day school where the number of hours dedicated to general studies is even more crunched.

We as teachers in a dual curriculum school have a tremendous responsibility to teach the same material that our public school and non dual curriculum private schools have, but with far fewer hours.  Over the years, parochial schools have done an amazing job of this, but as the wealth of material and skills students need to be effective members of the workforce continues to grow, this is becoming an increasing challenge.

This is where UBD can come in and save the day.  Unit planning, unlike lesson planning in the traditional sense, requires teachers to look at the end result first.  How do we want our student to be as a result of our instruction in a macro sense?  What should our student know and be able to do as a result of our instruction?  By having global questions drive our unit of study and utilizing the standards in the beginning to drive instruction, we are able to cover more ground in a unit with less concern about simply teaching day to day only to find out we aren't able to get past World War II in a US history class.  If we know this issue, we can plan in advance when is taught what and how long each unit of study should be.  We are able to prioritize and organize our instruction.

What was my big mistake? (I always have one.) When I first worked with my BOLD teachers in the summer, I wanted the Step 3 section in their unit plans (the day to day activity section) to include daily accounting for blended (online curriculum) and differentiation.  Rather, I now am asking my BOLD teachers to account for both differentiation and online content each unit rather than each lesson.  Why?  Precisely because they are utilizing the playlist approach requiring students to go from station to station to conquer certain tasks and content within a unit, rather than within a period.  This approach gives flexibility to the teacher to adapt an individual lesson to provide remediation when necessary or additional time for online or offline activities.

Rather than having teachers hand in a section with dates on it, they divide their unit into days needed to cover it.  I told them to look at these days as pieces in a greater puzzle called their unit.  Magen David teachers are working on utilizing the common core state standards to drive their units of instruction and utilizing Bloom's Taxonomy to differentiate students in the rotational model.

As the head of the Marketing Committee on the board at He'Atid and a founding board member, I have been working with the He'Atid teachers to put what they are already doing online so parents can see this.  Today, I worked with their teachers to implement this strategy and I look forward to being able to market what He'Atid is already doing to the Jewish community.  The teachers were excited and enjoyed the structure and transparency this template offered.  The hebrew teachers especially loved the ability to document what they were doing both online with Tal Am and offline to supplement.  The teachers of older grades loved the opportunity to showcase how they were providing enrichment and remediation.

I am attaching two links to my ppt on the topic and template I use with He'Atid and Magen David teachers.  Here is the ppt:  
This is the link to the template: