During this unit, I unpacked a standard for the first time ever. I found the process to be lengthy, but in the end, I can definitely state that I know this standard inside-out and by heart. I learned that a standard is basically the educational goal that is used to create a unit plan. The standard I unpacked was an anchor reading standard from the Common Core in the English Language Arts domain.
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Backwards mapping is the concept of starting with the educational standard and from there, breaking it down or “unpacking” it and then finally designing lessons and educational activities around what the teacher now knows is the educational goal. The first step in unpacking a standard was to pull out the verbs, nouns and (where relevant) the context of the educational standard. In so doing one gets to the ‘meat’ of the standard. If possible, verbs (and possibly nouns) are then simplified further to make it absolutely clear what the unit must teach the students. This process undoubtedly makes unit planning and lesson planning more streamlined: I can understand why Teach-Now insists on its candidates learning it.
At this stage, one usually attempts to discover the “big idea” in the standard. I had some difficulty with this step, I think the reason being because I have always been a precise and detail-oriented person. The “big idea” tends to leave out a lot about what the standard is meant to accomplish and so feels incomplete to me. However, I am not convinced that this is a necessary part of the process of unpacking a standard. It came across to me more as a tool to help prevent a teacher from getting lost in the details.
The next step was to define the proficiencies or skills that students will need develop during the learning unit. The premise of this idea is that content is less important than teaching students the skills they need to continue and expand on their learning. If one reflects on this in terms of reading, that is absolutely true. Pupils may not remember the first books they ever read, but they will remember the process of decoding text (letters, words and sentences) to read fluently. This process is actually what stays with students and allows them to read increasingly complex books and to build upon their knowledge. Proficiencies are roughly defined as the skills that a student will need to master in order to attain the learning objectives. In other words, I student who knows the content underlying the standard, will be able to do certain things which demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired. Truthfully, I am still a bit confused regarding this step. I will probably ask the instructor to explain it to us in more depth or with some visual props to aid understanding. Nevertheless, I believe I have acquired the general idea about what a proficiency is.
Most revealing for me was the last step of defining and writing the SMART objectives. These are objectives which are written in such a way as to be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (and results-oriented) and Targeted to the learners – in my case, targeted to a sixth grade class in an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in Costa Rica. My experience was that simply stating what Students Will Be Able To do (SWBAT) is the easiest way to create realistic SMART objectives without having to think too much about them.
Last of all, a teacher will think of activities and lessons that meet the SMART objectives and satisfy the SWBAT. To assist with this, there are unit plans and lesson plans a-plenty available on the internet. Many of these are of quite high quality as they are provided by school boards, ministries of education for various U.S. states and by teachers who seem to ‘have it all together’. My favorites are from these sites: http://www.ereadingworksheets.com, https://sharemylesson.com, and http://www.teachersfirst.com. I am looking forward to creating lesson plans and educational activities in our next unit. Without this last step, the whole process feels incomplete to me.