54 Units is Kind of a Lot

I schedule my units out by the month. My planning takes place in three steps: long range, short range, and then lesson plans. One post on each this week!

Annual Planning
Unit Planning
Lesson Planning

I like to plan before I’ve forgotten what it is I think I know. When March arrives, I get spring fever for the upcoming year. I start to think about the changes I can make and what I can improve. A year ago I started thinking about what I was doing well and what I wasn’t. In March what wasn’t going so well was the fantastic pirate unit I had planned. I planned a 7-week project. Huge Mistake. It wasn’t so much the project as it was the number of steps I had planned and my time frame. I wanted the students to think of a piece of pirate lore they know from entertainment sources. They were to take that piece of pirate lore, research just that tidbit of information and determine if the ‘fact’ was truly fact or legend. Then they were going to use our Flip videos to briefly share what they had learned in an “I used to think, and now I know” format.

To me it sounded simple. And then 4th grade went on a field trip. And then we had a Friday workday. And then there was another field trip. And then it seemed like the classes fell off the earth and I never saw them. I had no way to take my 7 pieces of a unit and smoosh them into the 3-4 class periods I actually had with those students. It was a disaster. And I was so well planned. I learned my lesson. No more units lasting more than 4 weeks.

The other issue I had last spring is that there was a grade I didn’t have a plan for. So I flew by the seat of my pants for four weeks until I figured out a theme for April. It doesn’t bother me to do this, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Lesson learned: no more last minute planning. I stink at it.

A few years ago I learned I really dislike theme-of-the-week approaches. Can’t stand it. I like there to be a connection somewhere. So month-long units seems to be the way I need to plan.

The end of school arrives and I found myself a buddy. I needed a buddy. I can talk and work. I can either do that and talk to myself, or I can talk to another person. Our custodian prefers that I have someone in the room for the talking. Otherwise she worries.

The teacher workdays we have at the end of the year finished up and our music teacher and I stuck around two more days. She hauled her planning supplies to the library and I pulled out my laptop. To help me plan I had a basic scope and sequence of our state standards that I had worked on before, as many pacing guides from grade levels as I could find, and a list of my past units and lesson plans.

In a very simple grid format I started to generate ideas. Nothing super complex. Mostly theme ideas, but also a few skill highlights. I planned one illustrator/author study per grade, a tech project, something focusing on genre, and a research unit. I filled in all of the collaborative projects I’ve done in the past. And then I started filling in with units I’ve liked before or have heard of others doing. Google was my friend. It took me 2 days to fill in the grid for 54 units. For some units I already had ideas for the four lessons within the unit or books I wanted to use as resources. For others I only had a title for the unit. I love Delicious and started to tag ideas by the grade level and month. I knew when I got to November’s units that I could find my tag for november2010 and have resources ready.

Closer to the beginning of the year, I emailed all of our teachers a list of units for each grade with as much detail as I could give and my reasons for it. I think at that point in August last year I had two holes in my grid and asked teachers for ideas. I let teachers know that this wasn’t set in stone. Based on the feedback I recieved, I rearranged a few units and filled in my holes.

So far this year I’ve taught most of the units as I had planned. I scrapped my 3rd grade January unit and the 5th grade March unit to help with projects. Some units have been better than others. Overall though, I’ve been better prepared for lesson planning.

The most important part of this process is that I know myself. If you gave me the title of a unit, I could write the unit for you. But I’m not always feeling inspired each month to think of 6 new unit ideas. I have to do it in advance even if it’s just a vague idea written in my unit planning grid. I’m way too comfortable at winging-it. And when I wing-it, then I don’t end the year with the lesson plans I’m supposed to turn in for review.

I know that collaboration is what we strive for. I do collaborate. But I know I can’t go without a plan because if collaboration doesn’t happen, I need Plan B. I’m very willing to scrap a unit to collaborate. It’s also easier sometimes to get teachers to collaborate on my units than to wait for them to suggest theirs. And it’s easy for me to think about what they’ve done in the past and make suggestions for upgrading the unit to be collaborative.
So a grid with 54 unit ideas is my way to accomplish collaboration, teaching with the curriculum, and having well constructed instruction. It’s my long-range plan for the year and works for me. Coming Tomorrow: Unit Sharing!

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