As per Allison’s request, I’ll take a break from grading and laundry to say a few words about my new process and understanding on unit design using Wiggins and McTighe.
First of all, I understood conceptually creating essential questions but for some reason, when I started looking at a particular novel, I would get so close to the story and the themes that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees; especially when I had the pressure of designing 8+ units each for my 6 classes. It’s a lot of work and it’s daunting. But what I figured out is to forget about the story line, and think about the largest spectrum of understanding possible for the work. For example, I’m preparing a unit on Huck Finn for next quarter (2 weeks and counting down). I’ve never read it before (eek!) and I found it easier to come up with essential questions (does a novel need a hero and a villain to tell a good story? or, what role does prejudice play in people’s lives?) than I did for a novel I read through and through before teaching it. Because I wasn’t so concerned about plot and characterization, I was able to focus on the big meaning, the big message. When I figured this out, I was then able to step back from the novel I had read to discover the big question: what is the relationship between conflict and change?
From there, I was able to break down my overarching question into seven other essential questions: explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge.
Explanation: How does conflict lead to change?
Interpretation: How does conflict influence a person’s decisions and actions?
Application: What problem-solving strategies can people use to manage conflict and change?
Perspective: How does a person’s point of view affect how they might deal with conflict or change?
Empathy: How might it feel to live through a conflict that disrupts your way of life?
Self-Knowledge: What personal qualities have helped you to deal with conflict and change?
From these questions, I now know how to approach the book Memory by Margaret Mahy (although we’re 7 chapters into it already…) and what they need to get out of each chapter. I now have an idea of what the final assessment will be. Having the target up front really does help to focus the direction and energy of the unit.
I still haven’t decided on a final assessment for Memory, but I have next quarter’s units rolling and I’m figuring out a lot of what I didn’t quite understand before about this type of unit design. It’s almost as if I had to have the experience of what doesn’t work to understand what does. When I was doing my MA Teaching, we talked about Wiggins and McTighe off and on through some of my courses, but never in-depth. I can see the value of a whole course on how to accomplish this type of unit design, including the ability to create a handful of units this way, too, for the experience of it and models to use later.
This post seems fairly disjointed but I captured as much as I could on this. Mostly, the breakthrough was about figuring out just how to ask and develop essential questions and how once you have those, everything else really falls into place.