Unit Planning Resources

I may be nuts, but I just love to create unit plans.  We recently had two student teachers at our school, and one of them said when given the chance to create a unit plan, “We were taught to find unit plans online.  Why reinvent the wheel?”  I love using Internet resources, but I don’t think I’ve ever used an Internet unit plan as is.  Every class has different weaknesses and strengths, I gather a number of Internet resources and pick and choose what fits.  Here’s my process:

First, using Understanding by Design I create the top of my unit plan–the Standards I will teach, the Essential Questions and Essential Ideas.  
I google essential questions and ideas when I’m working on this as even if I don’t use them, they often spark good ideas.

Then I work on specific content and skills I need to teach.  Some of those, I lift directly from the Internet, like the Big6 skills.

I also decide how to assess students’ achievement of the standards.  Our goal as language arts and social studies teachers in this assignment is to give students their first experience in writing a research paper.  We will assess the paper using the 6-Traits Scoring Guide from Education Northwest.  I always use the 6-point rubric because the research shows that teachers often choose the middle number on a 5-point rubric.  a 6-point rubric forces you to make a choice.

At this point I also write an explanation of the assignment ROME explanation for the students.



Now the fun begins–looking for Internet resources/ideas which I can use to teach the content and skills.  For teaching content, I almost always go first to Prezi where I find many dynamic presentations which often have embedded YouTube videos.

Then I troll my Pinterest boards looking for treasures I’ve tucked away for when I need them, like this visual about research which I’ll print out and have the students put in their writing notebooks.I like to teach vocabulary with every read-aloud, so I let my fingers do the walking and look for units designed around specific books and look for vocabulary that is transferable from one book to another.  I put the vocabulary on Quizlet.  Here’s my vocabulary list for The Bronze Bow on Quizlet.

Since we are working of the skill of researching, I’ll show the students some of my favorite search engines and also teach them to use Diigo to store their research.  They can annotate and highlight their stored web pages there.  I also look for some scaffolding for research papers to help some of my students who struggle with differentiation.  Having grown up in the days when ALL your research was done in libraries and from books that you hoped were not checked out, I rejoice in the plethora of tools at our fingertips!

Written Conversations

I’ve been working on the best and most engaging way to have my students use written conversations to discuss literature.  When students discuss verbally, often the shy students hang back and don’t engage.  Plus, as I circulate around the classroom I get an idea of how discussions are going, but I really have no data to use for formative assessment.

I’ve tried Collaborize Classroom, which I love, but it was not as free-flowing as I would like.  I think it is best used for an asynchronous discussion for homework.

In the past, I’ve had students write in their notebooks and then pass them to each other which works fairly well, but the writing takes up a fair amount of time and slows down the discussion.

Recently I tried Today’s Meet, which is a backchannel site, and I am flag-waving fan.  It’s super simple to work.  You name your room (see screenshot), give your students the link, and you’re ready to roll.

I first tried it out in a professional development workshop I delivered and it was a rousing success.  Many teachers added to the conversation and made the presentation much richer through their participation.

In my class we first tried a whole class (19 students) discussion on Today’s Meet, which was a total disaster.  A discussion with the class divided into two halves was doable, but I’m going to set up rooms for each of my table groups next time.  You can save the transcript of the discussions and use them to teach discussion skills or use them for assessments.

The more things change…

…the more they stay the same.

My sister recently gave me four “Miss Read” books, part of a series written by an English country teacher.  I was reading Village Diary, written in 1957, and had to laugh at the following as it could be said today:

The child today, used as he is to much praise and encouragement, finds it much more difficult to keep going as his task gets progressively long.  Helping children to face up to a certain amount of drudgery, cheerfully and energetically is one of the biggest problems that teachers, in these days of ubiquitous entertainment, have to face in our schools; and the negative attitude, in so many homes, of “How-much-money-can-I-get-for-how-little-work?” does nothing to help them in their daily battle.

Action Research: Argument Reading and Writing

I just finished my Master’s Degree in Literacy at UNE–and my last project was so exciting.  I did an action research project about instituting the Common Core Standards at my school–Country Day School in Escazu, Costa Rica.  I focused on teaching close reading skills, using higher text complexity levels for short text, and argument writing.  It was a ball!  Here’s a link to the Action Research Paper.

CCSS & Reading

I am becoming such a big fan of the Common Core State Standards.  I’ve always felt like a pretty good reading teacher–especially once I began to thoroughly teach the reading strategies, which, of course, I still do.  But I have to admit that teaching the Common Core Standards has taken my teaching to a new level of accountability.

For example, before this year (my 1st year using the CCSS) I would show movies of books we read, and have casual, short discussions about the differences.  One of the CCSS has to do with comparing and contrasting various media:

RL.6.7 Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poemto listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, includingcontrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceivewhen they listen or watch.

So this year, I read The Lightning Thief to my class and then showed the movie.  While they watched the movie, my students took notes on what was different from the book.  They really enjoyed taking the notes and ended up with pages and pages of material.  Next task, write an compare and contrast essay.

W.6.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational tests to support analysis, reflection and research.  Apply Grade 6 reading standards to literature and informational texts.

I knew my class couldn’t  organize all that material without a structure except for a select few.  I gave a suggested format:

  • Introduction paragraph
  • Two things the movie left out.  Write why you think they were left out and whether you think they were good choices and why.
  • Two things the movie added.  Write why you think they were added and whether you think they were good choices and why.
  • Conclusion paragraph

They’re busily working on this as I write this post.  They have 50 minutes to complete their essay, so I don’t know the essay results, but I do know that focusing deeply on this work has caused students to think critically and ask great questions.

Photo credit:  http://goo.gl/jPm5y

Argument Reading and Writing

Since we’re implementing the CCSS at my International school in Costa Rica, I had to quickly study up on argument reading and writing.  I’d taught persuasive writing (letters and editorials) but never really taught argument writing.  I turned to George Hillocks, Jr., one of my go to guys, and he did not disappoint.

His book is written for grades 6-12, and I’m pretty much using the whole first half of the book which is about the basics of argument writing for my 6th grade unit.

  • For arguments of fact, we are studying mystery scenarios and writing up police reports which make a claim (who’s guilty) that is based oon evidence.  This is a great way to get the students engaged in close reading without having to push it as every word is important in solving the mystery.
  • For arguments of judgment, we will start with what makes a good mascot, move on to what makes a good leader, and move into the presidential race of today.
  • Students have yet to choose the argument of policy they’re going to make to change a rule here at our school.  There seems to be growing interest in banning uniforms.  The students will work on this in small groups.

But Mr. Hillocks does not stop there.  The whole second section of the book is amazing and gets more and more conceptually difficult.  There’s two more resources we’ll use later in the unit.  One is ProCon.org, an independent non-partisan website that looks at the pros and cons of controversial issues.  Another is FactCheck.org, another independent non-partisan website that looks for what is true and not true in the news.  They’re having a heyday with both candidates after the debates.

Assessing Assessment: Using the CURRV Method

I just finished my master’s in literacy course about assessment.  There are two big take-aways that we all agreed on, and today I’ll write about the first–the CURRV method of assessing your assessments.

Consequences of Assessment:  Reading assessments must have the consequence of helping students develop as readers.  There are many consequences–both positive and negative–of reading assessments ranging from increased student self-esteem to robbing valuable teaching time from the students.

Usefulness of Assessment:  We need all types of assessments, but we need to determine their usefulness before we give it.  At my last school we had to give spelling inventories to our students–an assessment I always found quite useful for informing instruction and creating a snapshot of each student from varied assessments.  I recently found out that many teachers had no idea why we gave the assessment and so it was useless to them.

Roles and Responsibilities Realated to Assessment:  Teacher roles may include encouraging students to take the test seriously or teaching the testing genre to the student.  Students roles may include preparing to take the assessment.

Reliability of Assessment:  Is the assessment going to be affected by teacher state of mind?  Then it is not reliable unless checks and balances are put into place to make assessment practices consistent.

Validity of Assessment:  The intuitive test of validity is asking the question, “Is this worth the time?”

This is an extremely truncated explanation of the CURRV method, and you can find more in Peter Afflerbach’s book, Understanding and Using REading Assessment K-12.


Could You Help By Taking This Quick Survey?

I made this survey for a class project at the University of New England.  I designed it for teachers at InterAmerican Academy in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but would love to hear what anyone else has to say about assessment in their schools.  Puh-lease take a minute to fill it out.