- When you plan a unit, you don't know that one week you will get sick, your wife will have a car accident, and there will be an assembly on Thursday which shortens all class periods.
- When you plan a unit, you don't know that the following week there will be another assembly plus an early-release day of no classes to plan around.
- When you plan a unit, you might forget that some practical decisions get based on things like the availability of the library or computer carts ... or your local baseball team competing in the World Series!
- You plan a unit for imaginary, nameless, hypothetical students who get through the material at their own speed -- occasionally faster, but usually much slower than you expected.
- Unit planners also don't know what other needs each group of students will have .... pervasive emotional insecurity, a dysfunctional social culture, gaps of academic skill, etc.
Last Friday, I lamented here about many students' stress level and in-class dysfunction. Upon further consideration over the weekend (thanks in part to my reflective blogging!), I realized the need to restructure my class time with a more teacher-centered approach for a little while, coupled with some Think-Pair-Share activities for variety and practice.
I noticed immediate benefit on Tuesday and Wednesday. That structure is much more similar to what they got most of the time in their 4 core classes last year (plus usually world-language too). Perhaps I was trying too many things at once like jigsaws and 30-minute long partnered tasks on top of brand-new curriculum.... The other day, several kids raised their hand and joined the discussion who never had before! I can build on those successes.
We teach the students we have, not the ones we'd like to have.
However, this weekend's Problem To Solve is about time and priorities. On Thursday I scripted a video lesson and assessment about redistricting, gerrymandering, and term limits ... all things they would need to know for Unit Objective 2. Yet the students have already started a project about Unit Objective 1, which involves independent research and analysis of a current House, Senate, or Governor campaign somewhere in the U.S. I spent a helluva lot of time designing that assignment, and they've already made some progress ..... although not as much as the imaginary, nameless, hypothetical students would have done! During yesterday's project workshop period, they did about 1/2 as much as I had expected. At this rate, they need at least 2 more class periods of workshop than I originally had planned. So now I am inches away from ditching an entire Unit Objective assessment.
[UPDATE: As I finish this blog post I realize that I have to remove it from this year's plan.]
I guess this is what "piloting a new unit" really means. These students will learn less than I expected while designing assessments and activities on a hot day in August. I have to be okay with that, because there is very little outside pressure. It's just my own plan with arbitrary and apparently-not-totally-realistic expectations. It's too bad because I had a really cool video production idea for the next Need2Know lesson, but I guess I will have to save that for later....