Hamlet Files Installment 2: True Confessions about Unit Planning

In determining what texts to teach to the kids in the Resiliency unit, Jenny and I have known from the start that we needed to think about the standards we want to address and the assessments we want to use to determine whether or not the kids are “getting” what we’re teaching, both along the way (i.e., formative) and at the end of the unit (i.e., summative).

In my Methods class, my students and I have read multiple texts that advocate “planning backwards” (e.g., Smagorinsky, 2008; excerpts from Wiggins & McTighe, 2008). Jenny’s and my work on NWP’s national “Literacy in the Common Core” team has also emphasized that you start with the task, consider the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) it requires, and then plan your lessons and activities as well as your formative assessments from there.

So here’s the true confession: We believe that all this is important, too, but to be honest, we started first with the text we wanted to teach together—Hamlet. This is partially because we’ve immersed ourselves so much in the CCSS, we feel as if they’re pretty much in our bones. We were confident that we could design instruction and assessments that would meet them in rich and diverse ways. Jenny also had two pressing external constraints that she had to address before the end of year–teaching a Shakespearean text and preparing students to take the impending AP exam. We were also confident in one another; we’ve collaborated together on so many CSUWP tasks in the past, we trusted that team-teaching had a good chance of enhancing the learning opportunities for the kids and would make us both better at our jobs to boot.

It would be disingenuous, then, to say that we knew everything going in. Instead, we planned the Resiliency unit in the same way we often teach new units—focusing our instruction around the kids’ likely interests and learning needs; external mandates; and a texts we already knew and loved. We knew from experience as we purposefully planned and reflected on students’ experiences, our focus would sharpen over time. Because we’re documenting our work and reflecting on it daily, we’re able to make immediate adjustments, and we know that next time we teach this, we will be better.

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