Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wondering About the Unit Plan

A former doctoral student who is beginning a new position writes, "Turns out I'm teaching
English methods and as I'm working on the course, I am wondering about the unit plan. Do you require one? I'm pretty close to not including it because I found them hard to grade and [students at my previous institution] had to write so many. I was thinking instead of having
students do more exploratory pieces, such as a project exploring a text with response and ancillary sources, etc. What do you think is essential in a methods course these days?"

As it happens, I'm teaching our methods course ("The Teaching of English") for the first time in about seven years myself, so I share her questions. What do you think? Is the "unit plan" a necessity or a problem? Does writing them help your students or hinder them?

15 comments:

Bucky C. said...

Hmm... good topic! The unit plan does seem to be a method course rite of passage. I think it is a necessary one. Not only can it help students get ready for presenting their lessons in ways that administrators might want to see them, but it can give them early experience juggling different state and national standards. It also can give them the opportunity to see how they best organize their plans. I offer my students different models for planning and use the ReadWriteThink template as a basic one (I like it because it is so narrative in structure, and I just feel that many English Ed students think in more narrative terms than charts or columns might support). Other members in the department offer other templates.

I think it can also give students that extra boost of confidence when they go into the field: "OK, I'm not completely without ideas. I've put together this whole unit!"

On the other hand, there is no promise that a student will ever use his or her unit. I know many find the labor tedious, and I am sure some never touch the unit again once it is completed.

That all being said, I'm generally in favor of a unit plan as part of a methods class. I think the experience students gain in organizing and essentially being curriculum writers is worth it. I would hope there would be some variety and differentiation mixed in, with students considering different standard sets or formats and certainly trying to contextualize everything.

Also, creating and sharing a store of ever-growing mini-lessons might be a good supplement to the unit plan for students.

I do hope others post on this topic soon!

P.S. I strongly recommend S. Long's new book Tensions and Triumphs as a class text for those teaching students in methods classes. It is a real-life, candid look at beginning teaching that I feel every aspiring teacher should read.

Kia Jane Richmond said...

I do require unit plans in both my Teaching of Writing and Teaching of English (methods) classes at Northern Michigan University. Unit plans allow students to synthesize lesson planning, attention to state standards, and assessment all in one assignment. Another reason to incorporate unit plans in Michigan is the new Michigan Merit Curriculum's emphasis on unit plans for teaching English at the high school level. See http://www.mich.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-38924_41644_42674---,00.html for more information.

I also invite my former English Ed students, who are now English teachers across the United States, to let me know if my students can help them by creating lesson or unit plans for specific units of study in their schools. This has brought about many successful academic service learning projects which help novice teachers and allow my students to get "real world" feedback on their lesson plans. Students in my methods classes during the past few years have planned a unit on YA lit novel Stargirl for an American Literature class in lower Michigan; created unit resources for a Wisconsin high school English class who were studying Fahrenheit 451; and designed a assignments for a unit on Native American identity and personal narrative for a class in New Mexico.

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