How to Renovate Instructional Units

by Char Shryock

Every summer I bring home a bookbag of summer projects including units that I want to renovate, and books and articles I wanted to read.  The bookbag makes it into my office, where it sits  until some rainy day in August when I finally feel up to the task of starting a project.  But where to begin?  Any good renovation begins with pulling together the right tools to help with the job.  

When I sit down to remodel an instructional unit, I start with the Ohio Quality Review Rubric.  I like the checklist, which I flip into guiding questions.  And the framework helps me to dive into the unit and pull out evidence of what works and what needs to be revised.  I can use the same guiding questions to help me focus as I create new lessons, build scaffolding, modify formative or summative assessments or connect technology tools.  I usually start with section 3, Instructional Supports.   No matter what the content area, the first opportunity for revising the unit is to look at the texts that are included in the unit. Does the unit provide all students with multiple opportunities to engage with text of appropriate complexity for the grade level? Does it include appropriate scaffolding so that students directly experience the complexity of the text? No matter what the grade level or content area, paying attention to text complexity is important.  Students can build content knowledge and grow their working vocabulary if they are given the chance to engage with complex texts.   I like to use the text complexity toolkit on achievethecore.org http://achievethecore.org/page/2725/text-complexity to be sure the texts in my unit are on track.  Vocabulary is one part of text complexity.  I use the academic word finder tool on achievethecore.org  found here http://achievethecore.org/academic-word-finder/ to find words that I may need to explicitly teach or words students may be able to use context to decipher meaning.  

Next,  I take a look at the assessment tools that are part of the unit.  This is section 4 on the Quality Review Rubric.  Are there enough formative assessment opportunities within the unit to give me a good sense of how the students are progressing in their learning so I can make adjustments in my teaching? Are there checkpoints where students can get feedback on their own learning?  Do the assessments give me evidence of the students’ depth of understanding? Are the assessments designed to give provide multiple entry points for students who are at different stages of mastery?

Finally, I go through each lesson within the unit to be sure that the activities and materials are matched to Ohio’s Learning Standards.  If the lessons really are standards based, the lesson should help move students towards mastery.  Does the lesson go off track? What was the student work generated from the lesson? Was it worth the class time I invested in the unit? Could I do something differently?

The next rainy day, go find your bookbag of summer projects and spend the afternoon revising a unit for next year!

Links to Renovation Tools

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