Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Initiating Year 8

It was a strange feeling to step back into my classroom this morning for the first time since June, and remember that I already have a good curriculum in place.

You see, in my first few years of teaching, I had the unfortunate habit of completely scrapping what I had done the year before, and trying to build something new (which I would just end up scrapping the next year, and so on).

This pattern of futility stopped when I was assigned to map out my curriculum for one of my summer Master's courses two years ago.  That summer, I spent a good 36 hours on my Humanities curriculum, applying principles of backwards design as I'd never done before.  Though the school-year that followed was not an easy one, it affirmed to me that my planning was on the right track, and also revealed some significant gaps (especially in my essential questions and assessments) which would need my attention during the next summer.  Fortunately, an assignment for one class asked me to research and apply learning about essential questions to a unit in my class, and the other asked me to research and apply universal design to a unit.  These helpful tasks gave me the momentum to apply what I learned to my entire curriculum, and it was during this planning time that I decided that I ought to make "justice" the central theme of my 11th grade classes.

This summer, my Master's classes revolved more around philosophy--of educational technology, of learner development.  These have been tremendously helpful in developing personal frameworks and perspectives on the way I teach, and the way my students learn.  Because of the nature of these courses, I have not worked on my curriculum until just this past week.

I find myself in the odd and unprecedented position of really liking what I did last year.  That's never been the case before.  I suppose that if I wanted to, I could just kick back and relax for one more week and just use the same materials as last year... but that's not who I am.  I thrive on a feeling of growth and development.  This manifested itself in unhealthy ways when I would tear down my entire curriculum and rebuild from the ground up, but I think this impulse is fundamentally a good one, and that the benefits will show now that I have a curriculum I want to hold on to.

This morning, I spent an hour setting the stage for the next week's worth of preparation.  I must confess that I'm not all that productive planning and brainstorming in front of a computer (reflection is a different story--this blog should provide evidence of that!).  In order to think creatively and think through how my curriculum fits together, I need to actually step into my curriculum and walk around.  So, I'm returning to a strategy I used in my planning last summer:
I wrote out my unit titles on A3 sheets of paper which I laid out on the floor of my classroom.  Then, I wrote out my essential questions on smaller sheets of paper, and set those around the units that they are attached to.
Over the next week, I will literally walk through my curriculum with Post-It notes in hand in order to fix up a few things in particular: a few of my essential questions are not related to my standards and I need to change those; some of my assessments connected to those superfluous essential questions will need to be revised or removed; one of my units needs a clearer focus.

The difficulty with this odd-unit-out is that it's my shortest unit at 4 weeks (the first unit after Christmas Break), and the focus is split between the Civil War--with essential questions about root causes/inevitability of conflict, the proper role of compromise, the use of terror or civil disobedience to achieve worthy goals; and U.S. Foreign Policy--with essential questions about isolationism, interventionism, and what it means for a nation to be a "good neighbor".  Both sides are important, but they do not really "gel" together in the same unit, and so I need to perform cosmetic surgery to make everything work in a way that makes sense with regard to the bigger theme of justice.

I know what I need to accomplish, and this will happen much more effectively if I'm able to write notes to myself, rearrange sheets of paper, physically add or remove essential questions.

The beauty of all this, though, is that I'm not starting from scratch: my final unit is still titled "Becoming People of Justice", and five of the six units leading up to that point have a clear theme that helps build toward that goal.

I suppose this is the kind of focus and ease that comes only with experience!  While I'm grateful for one more week to work, plan and prepare, I am excited to start the new school year.  Those challenging early years of surviving day-to-day are behind me, and I can look forward to growing and thriving as a teacher, standing on a solid foundation!

1 comment:

  1. it always feels good to be back in the harness, and pulling.