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My Dream Unit of Study: Launching the Classroom Community

July 24, 2010

*Click on the “Launching the Classroom Community” tab on the homepage to follow the current progress of this unit.

At the July Writing Institute this summer, Lucy Calkins reminded us that September is like New Year’s for teachers. I love this. I need this.  For me, it preserves this relentless hope that’s absolutely necessary for me to teach.

As part of this fresh start, I’ve realized I need to do a lot of remembering.

In the children’s novel Charlotte Sometimes, the character Charlotte finds herself waking up every other day as a different person – a little girl named Clare. She struggles to hold onto herself as she lives out Clare’s different and unfamiliar story. She is devastated that memories of her true identity are slowly leaving her. The story describes her struggle with these words:

“It was after this that Charlotte began to dream she was fighting to stay Charlotte, and one night woke from such a dream struggling, even crying a little. When she was calm again, she did not feel sleepy at all, so she lay still, carefully and deliberately making herself remember Aviary Hall, object by object, room by room.”

I am Charlotte. I awoke from this school year struggling. And now that the calm has set in,  I find that I am deliberately making myself remember ME… and remember the classroom communities that are possible.

But I can’t assume a classroom of students will love each other because it’s a new year or simply because I wish it so. Teaching is made up of a million different decisions and words and moments– all on purpose and full of heart.

So I was thinking… What if I could create a UBD unit for the year of my dreams? Why not?! Why not brainstorm the year I wish for my future fifth graders? And why not attempt to plan how this might happen?  We do it for reading and writing all the time! And the beautiful thing about planning with heart and purpose is that these units are often glorious. Even the hope of something glorious in a classroom is enough to make me try this.

If there is any time in a teacher’s life to dare such things, the time is now. In our summer-long “New Year’s Eve.”

First things first. What is a UBD unit?          This is a “backwards planning” approach to curriculum writing by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Find out more about Understand by Design here. This is my interpretation of the basics:

  • Start with a goal. What do I want for my students/myself in this unit?
  • What are guiding questions to direct our learning?
  • What are enduring understandings I hope my students will walk away with?
  • Finally– What are the skills and strategies students will need in order to internalize this knowledge?

I am in phase 1. I call it “The Messy Brainstorm.”  It is in no way perfect or complete but it’s a start. My hope is to flesh these bullet points out over the next several weeks and eventually have a kind of “unit” for creating a strong classroom community. (This could seem extremely teacher-centered. I DO want students to co-write this at the beginning of the year, but I think I need to work through this on my own to renew my vision of what’s possible.)

GOALS: A classroom is a place where students and teacher can’t WAIT to enter and stay. I want it to be a place that overwhelms them with comfort, safety, love, inspiration, and crazy fun AND pushes them to think, risk, act, and share. (wordy, much? Is there a word that embodies all these things?)

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS: (Have kids help think through these!!!)

1. What makes someone feel safe? comfortable? Loved?

2. What makes a group of human beings love and care for one another?

3. When is learning fun?

4. What is a favorite teacher like? What does she do? not do?  ( Your biggest fan.. looks out for you. believes in you. knows you.)

5. What inspires people?

6. When do people/I feel o.k. taking risks?

7.  ???

ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS (***Kids’ answers to questions should drive these. I am just taking myself through the process here.)

In our class, everyone is respected. You can take risks no matter what. You can be YOU and we’ll love you for it. Our room is a place where you can be known and accepted.(Learn names and histories and favorites as soon as possible! It’s easier to care for others when you know their story.)  If you need help, your classmates are like your family- we will help you out. Mistakes happen, and you will always be forgiven. It’s assumed that we will never hurt one another on purpose. But, if on accident we do, we can immediately go to one another and apologize.  * In every circumstance, we should put others first.  Why? This is tough. I think the answer might be “Why not?”  This could be the secret to world peace. If we get this right, WE might be the very people who change the world. Would you like the be the class that changed the world? 😉  –> this links back to “What inspires people?” People who inspire me are people who live in a way that makes others’ lives better.

To be  continued. . .

Next steps: 1. Revise questions 2. Finish and revise understandings- do they answer the essential questions? 3. Have I included an academic piece?? should I?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2010 7:06 pm

    you are inspiring, Lindsay Reyes. I am now wondering how I can make this happen with 8th graders. I love the part: “it is easier to care for others when you know their story” and it made me start thinking about how I could open the year with the metaphor of story and have kids write pieces that introduce themselves to the class…could be poetry, could be a story, could be an essay. Hmmmm. Thanks, chica.

  2. July 24, 2010 8:17 pm

    My second year at 223, we had a tagline… I would say “Personal Narrative” and the kids would chant back, “WHAT’S YOUR STORY?” Interestingly enough, that was the most tight knit group of my whole time there. I think starting with kids writing pieces to introduce themselves to the class could be powerful.. especially for 8th graders because they’d have to look for a good angle it to make it new.

    I love that you are thinking about doing it through poetry. Since the Spring, I have been seriously considering starting the year with Poetry. I think the work we do in that unit is a bedrock for great writing throughout the year. what do you think?

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