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Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
Skillful Teacher Presentation
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Skillful Teacher Presentation

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A portion of a presentation given at the Weber School on curriculum design focused on essential questions. Note: Understanding by Design® is a registered trademark of ASCD. Learn more at www.ascd.org.

A portion of a presentation given at the Weber School on curriculum design focused on essential questions. Note: Understanding by Design® is a registered trademark of ASCD. Learn more at www.ascd.org.

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  • The Skillful Teacher says that objectives, learning experiences based on those objectives, assessment of learning, and design of learning all add up to a curriculum.
  • Saphier says these aspects of design are key.
    Learning experiences
    Structure or arrangement of learning experiences
    Key concepts or essential questions
    Returning to key concepts over time
    Sequence of learning experiences
    Integration with other areas
  • Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, the authors of Understanding By Design, describe what they call the “twin sins of design.” One is activity-focused learning. Listen to this scenario. For two weeks every fall, all the 3rd grade classes participate in a unit on apples. The 3rd graders engage in a variety of activities related to the topic. In language arts, they read about Johnny Appleseed and view an illustrated film of the story. They each write a creative story involving and apple and then illustrate their stories using tempura paints. In art, students collect leaves from nearby crab apple trees and make a giant leaf-print collage that hangs on the hallway bulletin board next to the 3rd grade classrooms. The music teacher teaches the children songs about apples. In science, they use their senses to carefully observe and describe the characteristics of different types of apples. In math, the teacher demonstrates how to scale up an applesauce recipe to make enough for all the 3rd graders. The highlight of this unit is a field trip to the apple orchard, where students watch cider being made and go on a hayride. The final activity is an apple festival in which parents dress in apple costumes and children rotate through various activities at stations—making applesauce, competing in an apple word-search contest, bobbing for apples, and completing a math skill sheet containing word problems involving apples. Students read their apple stories while the entire group enjoys candy apples. Now consider this scenario: It’s late April (or early May), and the panic is beginning to set in. A quick calculation reveals to the world history teacher that he will not finish the textbook unless he covers an average of 40 pages per day until the end of school. He decides, with some regret, to eliminate a short unit on Latin America and several time-consuming activities, such as a mock UN debate and vote and discussions of current international events in relation to world history topics they’ve studied. To prepare his students for the departmental final exam, it will be necessary to switch into a fast-forward lecture mode. What these two scenarios share is that both have no clear intellectual goals. What is important here? What is the point? How will this experience help me as a learner meet my obligations? There are no explicit big ideas guiding the teaching and no plan for ensuring the learning.
  • Now consider this scenario: It’s late April, and the panic is beginning to set in. A quick calculation reveals to the world history teacher that he will not finish the textbook unless he covers an average of 40 pages per day until the end of school. He decides, with some regret, to eliminate a short unit on Latin America and several time-consuming activities, such as a mock UN debate and vote and discussions of current international events in relation to world history topics they’ve studied. To prepare his students for the departmental final exam, it will be necessary to switch into a fast-forward lecture mode. What these two scenarios share is that both have no clear intellectual goals. What is important here? What is the point? How will this experience help me as a learner meet my obligations? There are no explicit big ideas guiding the teaching and no plan for ensuring the learning.
  • The etymology of the word suggests that curriculum is the course to be run given a desired end point. In order to design a curriculum, you have to know what you want the students to have learned by the end of a course, a unit, a lesson. Start with what you want students to know, be able to do, or to understand, and build assessments and learning experiences that will help your students reach that desired result. The map, then, is your route toward achieving those results.

    Failure to have this kind of blueprint can lead to racing through the textbook, like the social studies example I shared, or it can lead to a string of activities that don’t measure any substantial higher order critical thinking skills, like this true example I found shared on an English teacher’s network: “I... use portions of [Shakespeare in Love] to show the the theature and costumes. Of course the play section at the end of Romeo and Juliet is a must... But I also have my students make home-made masks for the Masked Ball we have in class as a culminating activity. They wear their creations and dance to my instructions. I show them the dancing section (as well as the dancing section from A Knight’s Tale) and we do a simple version where no one touches each other. Then we chow down on the goodies they brought which symbolically represent characters from the play (i.e. angel food cake for Juliet and spicy ribs for Tybalt or Capulet, etc.).”
  • Essential questions are not new, but many teachers don’t understand what they are. In a previous school where I taught, my principal told me to put my essential questions on the board each day so that my students would know the focus of the lesson. Not a bad idea necessarily, but not an essential question either. Essential questions are key concepts and ideas. They’re broad. For instance, if that apple unit had been structured with essential questions, students might have explored such issues as How have planting, growing, and harvest seasons affected life in the US? Compared to other foods, how good for you are apples? Essential questions can frame our content goals. For example, if a standard or objective you have is that students will learn about the three branches of government, then a question like How might a government guard against abuses of power? helps stimulate thinking about why we need checks and balances, what the framers of the Constitution were trying to achieve, and other governmental approaches to balancing power. Instead of thinking of content as the stuff you need to cover, think of knowledge and skill as the means of addressing questions central to understanding key issues in your subject. The best questions promote understanding of the content of a unit on a particular topic, but they also spark connections and promote transfer of ideas from one setting to others. That’s why they are essential.
  • Saphier calls them overarching objectives. He says teachers who focus on the big picture, the overarching objectives, stand out from the crowd. They shape core practices and account for much of what we see in their classrooms. Wiggins and McTighe say that they push us the heart of things, open up thinking and possibilities for everyone, signal that inquiry and open-mindedness are central to expertise, insist that we must always be learners, and encourage, hint at, and demand transfer.

    They are questions like What do I most want for my students? When they leave me at the end of the year, when they graduate, what is the most important thing I want them to carry away from the experience? They might not show up in unit or lesson plans necessarily, but they permeate everything a teacher does. For example, what I want students to take away from my courses is the ability think and read critically and to communicate effectively. To take Saphier’s idea and frame it as an essential question, then, I might say something like What is effective communication? How can I be an effective communicator?
  • The word essential has four connotations for our purposes. One connotation emphasizes the importance of these essential questions that recur throughout all our lives. Such questions are broad in scope and timeless in nature, perpetually arguable. What is justice? Is art a matter of taste or principles? How far should we tamper with our own biology and chemistry? Is science compatible with religion? Is an author’s view privileged in determining the meaning of a text? We are likely to change our minds about the answers to these questions over time and based on our experiences. Education is not just about learning the answer but about learning how to learn. Another connotation associated with essential questions is the notion of core ideas or big ideas in a subject and the frontiers of technical knowledge. They are historically important and alive in the field. What is healthful eating? Is history capable of escaping the social and personal history of its writers? A third connotation of essential questions is that they help students figure out important but complicated ideas, knowledge, and know-how and serve as a bridge to findings that experts believe are settled, but learners do not yet grasp or see as valuable. In what ways does light act like a wave? How do the best writers hook and hold their readers? What models best describe a business cycle? A final connotation of essential questions is that they are relevant to the students. We as adults have questions that are important in the grand scheme of things as judged by both specialists and teachers, but unless they hook students, unless students see the relevance, meaning, interest, and importance, they are not likely to feel they are all that essential. So the term essential questions is somewhat ambiguous. They keep us focused on inquiry as opposed to just answers.
  • Wiggins and McTighe identify three stages to design, which can be applied to an individual unit, a course, or an entire subject. First, you need to determine what it is you want students to know, do, or understand by the time they are finished with the unit, the course, or have graduated from Weber. Second, you need to determine how students can prove to you that they have learned, done, or understood. What evidence is there that students have achieved the desired results? Finally, you create a plan for the unit, course, or curriculum that will ensure students are able to provide that evidence.
  • At this point, we are going to give you a handout from Understanding by Design that will enable you to determine some essential questions for a course in your department. This filter has guiding questions that you can ask to get at the root of what is important. We’d like you to pick a course taught in your department and insert the title of that course where you see blanks. Discuss the answers to these questions in order to come up with two or three essential questions for that course. We will have some time to share essential questions before we go.

  • Transcript

    • 1. Curriculum Design & Overarching Objectives Dana Huff, Amber Singleton, Chaya Lieberman, Rebecca Pierce
    • 2. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe Understanding by Design
    • 3. Works Cited Akash K. “math.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. cä. “Keys open doors, but also close....” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Crider, Tony. “Hyperbolic Funnel.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Japoskee. “Soulmates.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Mitchell, Stephen. “Apple Core.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Pilbrow, Stuart. “114/365 Lick your Elbow.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Scullin, Will. “Blueprint.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Thunderchild tm. “Overarching.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010. Varlan, Horia. “Question mark made of puzzle pieces.” Flickr. Web. 25 Apr. 2010. Wayne National Forest. “Wayne National Forest Solar Panel Construction. Flickr. Web. 25 Apr 2010.

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