Collaborative Thematic Units


For your final project in ENG 315, you will work with one or two partners (groups no larger than 3) to create a thematic unit. For the purposes of this project, I consider a theme to be a guiding question (How do you define community?) or broad theme (Doing what's right) as compared to a particular topic (dinosaurs) or an author study (Dr. Suess). To use the language of Wiggins and McTighe, these are what we would call "essential questions" and "enduring understandings." That is, your unit should have a central focus that will encompass a wide number of mentor texts, genres of writing, and types of assessment.

Guiding Questions for You to Consider

  • What does your curriculum look like on a single day? Over a week? Across a unit of study?
  • What principles of the writing workshop approach guide you? Conferring? Mini-lessons? Publication?
  • What curriculum standards and expectations guide you (GLCE/CCSS)?
  • How will you assess writing in formative and summative ways? With and/or without rubrics?
  • How does your own professional research and examples of effective teaching practice (such as your work on the multigenre project) inform your teaching?
  • What do you know about kids at the grade level you teach? How does what you teach about writing at your grade level "fit" with the bigger picture of learning to write over time (Calkins' development of writers)?
  • How will you integrate technology in meaningful ways to teach digital writing (wikis, Google Docs, podcasts, digital stories)?
  • What else do we need to keep in mind about our students as readers? As writers? As young people growing up in the world?

What will this project look like? Do you have a model that we can follow?

Depending on how you look at it, the (un) fortunate answer to these questions are "I don't know" and "No, I do not."

The first reason I integrated this particular unit planning project into ENG 315 is because -- over the past few years -- I've realized that my students need some experience in some response with unit planning. This assignment has evolved for me in the sense that I used to do just a one class period activity, talking broadly about writing instruction and curriculum. When I realize that one class period wasn't quite enough, I would stretch it out as a homework assignment over two. Last semester, my ENG 315 students told me that they have had no unit planning experience in any of their other methods courses, and this was something that I thought you all were getting in your cohort classes. But, this was (is?) not the case.

The other reason for integrating this unit planning project has to do with how you are prepared to teach writing. While you will likely be presented with a variety of lesson and unit plans in student teaching and in your first job -- such as the MAISA Units or Lucy Calkins Units of Study -- I feel that you will be best person to make the decisions about how and what to teach your students, and more importantly, why to teach. I know some teachers who "must" use the units the district provides, and some who have total freedom to plan and teach. In either case, you will be making decisions about how to supplement existing units or develop your own from scratch. This project will give you an opportunity to do that kind of planning.

Project Requirements

  • Troy will assign your team to a "project space" on this wiki to create your unit so it is accessible by others.
  • Contains all elements of an effective unit plan
    • States the essential question and enduring understanding (at least one of each, but no more than three)
    • Integrates at leaste 5 mentor texts, including some fiction and some non-fiction, with a short description of each (1 paragraph about why you chose this text and how you would use it)
    • Describes a series of at least 10 mini-lessons that could be explored in the unit, connected to a CCSS (2-3 sentence description each, full plan for each mini-lesson not required)
    • Includes at least three assessment strategies for writing, two formative (on-going) and one summative (end of unit) and rubrics, if needed
    • Utilizes at least one form of digital writing such as wikis, Google Docs, podcasting, digital storytelling, etc.
    • Contains an overview of the unit (500-1000 words) that describes how you designed the unit and would help other teachers prepare to teach the unit identifying connections to the overarching pedagogical principles of writing workshop instruction
      • Student choice
      • Adequate time
      • Explicit teaching and modeling
      • Talking and conferring
      • Focus study on genres
      • Publication
      • High expectations
      • Structure and classroom management
  • The unit is designed and presented in such as way that other teachers would be able to build off your work.
    • Be sure to cite original sources, note adaptations, and to include your name and email address on the materials.

Assessment Criteria

  • 50 points -- includes all component parts noted above
    • Essential question and enduring understanding
    • 5 Mentor texts with annotations
    • 10 Minilessons with brief descriptions (not full lesson plans)
    • 3 Assessment strategies (two formative, one summative)
    • 1 Digital writing connection
    • Unit overview with connections to writing workshop principles
  • 150 Points -- depth of thinking aligned with CMU Teacher Ed Dispositions. To what extent does the unit plan align with the:
    • Commitment to students, especially in providing students with opportunities to learn and feel successful and acknowledging diversity and privilege? (50 points)
    • Commitment to learning, especially in your ability to collaborate effectively with colleagues, producing quality work, and engaging in effective use of technology and content re knowledge? (50 points)
    • Commitment to professionalism, especially in your ability to spend the time necessary to do a quality job, is reliable and prepared, and engages in appropriate professional communication, both in writing and presentation? (50 points)

One possible vision for what this might look like in a general sense:
ENG 315 Unit Plan Template.jpg