Setting the Scene
If you are reading this blog post, chances are that you are open to exploring new ways to plan your units, ensuring more clarity and purpose in student learning. Changing the way we plan can help us see units we teach in a different light, allowing us to reframe, reorganize, and recalibrate. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, and is instead about reflecting and refining what we do to impact student learning on a deeper level.
The day-to-day demands on teachers can be overwhelming and very hard to navigate. It takes a very special focus and a relentless level of effort to remain on the top of our teaching games. In this blog post I share a pre-unit planning framework that I have adapted from IB’s From Principles into Practice and developed over the past few years. It helps break down not only the ‘why’ of teaching, but also the ‘what’ and ‘how.’
A Framework for the Planning Process
- Planning Prompts: As PYP teachers there is a certain framework teachers must adhere to in their planning process. It is important to note that teachers across the world follow different planning processes and create their version of the process. This blog captures the process that I follow with my teaching teams and in no way is it the only way to plan. As a reminder of the essential elements of the PYP, I adapted and created a planning prompts document based on IB’s From Principles into Practice. This captures the big ideas that teachers need to think through when planning units.
This planning prompts sheet outlines key concepts, the Learner Profile, the Approaches to Learning Skills, and both discipline specific concepts and related concepts that transcend subject specific boundary lines.
Teachers sit down with this planning prompts sheet to not only plan new units, but also revisit units previously taught to discuss and reflect on how these units might be refined. This allows them to be intentional and focused on the ‘why’ behind their teaching.
- Pre-Unit Planning Outline: When I am working with my teaching teams to plan a completely new unit or work to refine a unit taught from the year before, I encourage them to use my planning prompts sheet along with the pre-unit planning document:
- According to me, this pre-unit planning outline helps create a bird’s eye view of the unit at a glimpse. It helps teachers define what they want the enduring understanding to be, which is then crafted into the central idea.
- I, then encourage them to identify the essential student learning outcomes based on the scope and sequence that they use in their program.
- Next, I encourage teachers to decide on a conceptual lens or overarching concept that will support the enduring understanding of the unit.
- Next, they look at the key concepts, related concepts, the Learner Profile attributes, and Approaches to Learning Skills that will best support the conceptual lens and the enduring understanding of the unit.
- My whole process is deeply rooted in refining the number of outcomes, concepts, attributes and skills to be taught. Less is more! Keeping it on one page gives teachers a clear and concise overview of the unit that they will teach.
- Coded ATLs Handbook: As part of this planning process, I decided to number code each of the ATL skills in the five areas of Thinking Skills, Research Skills, Communication Skills, Social Skills, and Self-Management Skills.
This allows for better navigation through the newly enhanced ATLs provided by the IB PYP. Teachers can dive more deeply into the skills themselves and which of these skills authentically and meaningfully support the enduring understanding of the unit.
The Music pre-unit planning and Physical Education pre-unit planning prompts sheets are available in the downloadable, so be sure to click download now!
My Visual Arts and Music Pre-Unit Planning Document is available in the downloadable curated for you
According to me, thinking intentionally about the order and laying it out is in itself an important step in the process. Once teachers identify what the big ideas of the unit are, they can then create a mini-timeline on the same planning sheet. This can be broken down into however long the unit is, for example, 6-7 weeks.
Creating a timeline in this way essentially provides teachers with a roadmap to the unit from the first to the last week. It allows for more meaningful discussions about formative assessment and how timely feedback can be provided to students with more regularity.
Once the rough draft of the timeline is complete, teachers create a large poster-sized timeline to be posted on the wall in their planning space. This becomes a constant go-to throughout the unit in order to have authentic conversations and reflections around how the unit is going.
Teachers can use the timeline to specifically look at how each of the big ideas will be unpacked within the unit. They can create the guiding questions they need to promote deeper inquiry into the big ideas and understandings. The timeline can be used for ongoing reflection using specific protocols.
The planning prompts sheet devotes a section to the ATLs and has a breakdown of the sub-skills in each of the five areas. Included in each of these areas are the number codes that correspond with each sub-skill. Teachers can then refer directly to the ATL handbook to look specifically at which indicators they would like to target as part of the teaching in the unit.
I hope you find my planning process and prompts useful in making your planning more meaningful, authentic, and collaborative!