Unit Plan of One’s Own: Unit Components

MEd Final Presentation

This post is part of a serialized collection of chapters composing my recently completed Master’s of Education degree at the University of Victoria. You can access the other chapters on this site here, and access a pdf of the completed paper on the University of Victoria library space here

This proposed unit plan for assessment includes opportunities to document individual learning in diverse forms and media on individual blogs. It is intended that by collecting a record of learning across various units, these documents will help contribute to a larger, summative syntheses of learning such as a midterm or final examination. In these documents, students may choose to capture learning in a variety of ways: blogged text, handwritten notes, audio or video reflections, social media updates (Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or others). At each stage, so long as the intention and record of one’s thinking can be tagged, categorized, and curated appropriately on the individual (or class) blog, the documents will serve the larger outcomes in the course of study.

At a minimal level, the first position and reflection / self-assessment assignments introduced in this chapter will continue to drive a critical praxis of individual expression and reflection, while other aspects described below (including the Midterm / Final Examination) can be added or taken away from units as time and context deem necessary.

First position

Objective: To ‘capture’ ourselves at the outset of the unit / lesson / activity.

Key Questions:

  • What are my first impressions of the topic?
  • What do I / we know about the topic already?
  • What do I wish to know about the topic?
  • What questions do I have?
  • How will I go about finding answers to these questions?
  • Why is it important for me to find answers to these questions?

In this introductory post, base knowledge and initial questions are outlined. Following an initial encounter with the unit objectives (through a class discussion, lecture, reading or individual research), this post seeks to set goals and outline personal intentions for the learning to come, including how the achievement of these goals might be realized. As even at the outset of a unit, a student’s “first” position comes as the resolution of previous learning, it is important to highlight the importance of reflection at this stage and connect emerging themes and questions to prior lessons or experiences.

Document of learning in progress

Objective: To make a record of learning as it is unfolding.

Key Questions:

  • What did I set out to find?
  • What am I finding?
  • What has thus far been successful / interesting / of value?
  • What has thus far been challenging / disappointing / confusing?
  • Has this experience revealed any new questions?

As students (and perhaps teachers) look to document learning that is in progress, it is important to look both backwards and forwards. Checking in on one’s original intentions, and making plans to progress further, offers the opportunity to reflect upon and assess individual learning, as well as to recalibrate goals toward emergent inquiries and outcomes. In addition to this point of reflection on individual learning, the document of learning in progress allows for further engagement with peers’ work, and the chance to synthesize collective narratives around shared themes or topics of study.

Planning for summative assessment

Objective: To propose possible means of demonstrating and sharing one’s learning at the conclusion of the unit. This stage can be utilized for individual, as well as group/class planning.

Key Questions:

  • How will I/we best be able to demonstrate or represent my/our learning during this unit?

  • Is there a particular medium of presentation which suits the topic, lesson, or personal/collective theme at the heart of the unit?

  • What are the possibilities or challenges associated with these various forms?

It is important at this juncture of a particular unit for students to outline appropriate forms of representing their knowledge at the culmination of the unit, whether within a common set of expectations, or as individual expressions of learning. While this stage of a unit and brainstorming / goal-setting of this type may be completed through discussion, and may not ultimately demand to be archived for future reflection, it can be helpful for reflection and self- assessment of summative experiences where what emerges goes well beyond (or below) original expectations. Charting how these expectations are met, or not, by looking back on these previously stated goals, can offer specific direction in future opportunities.

Summative capture

Objective: To record or document one’s effort in a final expression or representation – whether as an essay, dramatic, collaborative, or explanatory presentation, or experiential project – of summative learning for the unit. As the reflection and self-assessment stage of the unit plan seeks to synthesize unit learning surrounding summative exams and presentations, documenting these learning experiences in digital form is not an essential element of the unit’s design. The objects which are created to represent emergent learning can often lose meaning outside of their immediate contexts, and as such it is not imperative to have these summative representations documented on an individual blog.

The challenge to capture the summative experience or effort should not interfere with the quality of the examination or participation in the experience in the first place. Rather, it is important to use these objects and experiences as prompts for reflection, self-assessment, and future goal setting. If the archiving can be bent to serve unit objectives while developing digital literacies and means of expression, indeed, then so much the better. However, digital curation should not impede the central objectives of the summative assignment.

Key Questions:

• Does the summative activity, project or presentation lend itself to digital archiving?

• Can the means of digitally preserving the summative learning become part of the process of creation and supportive of the overall unit objectives?

Reflection / self-assessment

Objective: To engage in metacognitive critical thinking about the process that has unfolded during the unit.

Key Questions:

  • What have been the main learnings (personal or collective) throughout this process? What will you remember about this experience?

  • During which aspect of the assignment do you feel that you did your best work? Describe the process which led to this success.
  • During which aspect of the unit do you feel you did work which you feel that you could improve? Describe the process which would lead to this improvement.
  • Who helped you in achieving your success in this unit? How?

This reflective aspect of the unit may or may not be published to the individual public blog. However, it is important that this stage of the unit is executed, as it provides the required impetus to synthesize both personal and collective themes into unit lessons that can provide the first positions in subsequent units and learning. In addition to publicly posted reflections and self-assessment, discussions on these topics conducted in private (on an individual or class basis) can similarly lead to powerful learning.

A digital tool that can aid in the private collection of student reflection and goal setting is Google Forms, which allows teachers to gather survey responses to a variety of questions surrounding unit outcomes in a single spreadsheet or range of data representations. The documents created through these anonymized reflections can produce useful compendiums of classroom learning which can be used to produce themes of success or struggle, and highlight the work of peers which might otherwise go unheralded.

Midterm / final examination

Objective: To look back on multiple units, a term of study, or an academic year, and synthesize major themes and concepts encountered during the course of learning.

Key Questions:

• Which learning outcomes – personal, curricular, or emergent – have I have learned particularly effectively?

• Which documents and evidence of my learning can be used to support these claims?

• Which aspects of the learning have been particularly challenging, or unsuccessful?

• How will I make use of the learning that has taken place here in my future schooling, employment, citizenship and life?

In this larger summative opportunity, students are invited to reflect upon and synthesize individual and collective narratives of learning that take into account successive cycles of the critical praxis. Here, there is an ability to contextualize and reframe even unsuccessful efforts into moments of beginning, where the ultimate lessons of a term or course can be identified and begin to take root. And by inviting peers to continue offering feedback – whether in posts to a public blog, comments on a physical representation, portfolio, collage of learning, or presentation to the learning community – those who have played integral parts in an interdependent journey of discovery remain included in the process.


“Creativity is not a talent; it is a way of operating.”

The above talk given by the incomparable John Cleese contains not only a great deal of his characteristic wit, but also many salient points on developing one’s creativity. As the title says, Cleese introduces the idea of creativity as “not a talent, but a way of operating,” something that one can practice, deliberately devote space and time to, and see an improvement over time. What it comes down to, he says, is being open, something a few of my edu-idols have been living examples of for many years now.

Notably, Jim Groom, recently named in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ebook follow-up to the “12 Tech Innovators” article as an educator breaking trail, aligns several of Cleese’s points (which Jim also blogged about, and which I even only discovered when Jim’s colleague Tim Owens tweeted the link to the video) in discussing Innovation as a Communal Act:

When you look closely enough at the innovative work of any one person you quickly realize that it’s built around and on top of the work of a much larger community. And while I understand it’s simpler to enshrine a single individual for an achievement, I also know from personal experience that it often obfuscates the deeply social and distributed relations that make any of it possible…

Jim and John are driving at the similar heart of the creative act: openness. To be creative, one must be open to the possibility of being wrong, of being uncomfortable, embarrassed, or successful beyond their imagined goals To illustrate this notion of openness by its opposite, closed thinking, or operating, is the drive to be decisive: to rule out peripheral influences and act. Now.

Closed thinking, as you can imagine, is the natural enemy of creativity. But in its way serves its own purpose; open thinkers still need to publish their work, still need to perform, still need to, occasionally, be decisive, and rule out that new and perhaps late-in-coming idea, and pull the trigger, so to speak. “If we waited for artists to think their work was ready before anyone was able to see it,” I often tell my classes, “There would be no art in the world.”

However, Jim admits that closed thinking:

…remains a deep problem with the focus on credit and reward in the culture that we live in, our current educational system exemplifying the worst of that ethos.

Which is why, perhaps, the Chronicle article featuring Jim admits, You may have heard the word ‘disruption’ lately, as the work he has done with the Digital Storytelling 106 course that he teaches at the University of Mary Washington (not to mention the host of other insanely awesome projects he, Alan Levine, Martha Burtis, Tim Owens, and Andy Rush, among others have their hands in across that campus – including, yes, a #ds106 bus tour) directly confronts the limitations of education focused solely around closed thinking. But while Jim’s personality (and way of operating) are everywhere you look within the DS106 community, there is a more universal quality at work than the ability to teach an online course as two people at the same time:

I have only a modicum of responsibility for the community that is ds106—that could only happen because a group of people came together and opened themselves up to one another. They shared who they are, what they know, what turns them on, and as a result a community was born. And it seems to me now that every class should be such a community, every class should aspire towards becoming a community. That is the dream, that is why we do what we do. ds106 has become the realization of what school can and should be, and for me that is the real innovation and it can’t be attributed to any one person—it can only be attributed to the age old, and seemingly forgotten, innovation of communities coming together to help one another out.

The key to creativity, John Cleese says, is surrounding yourself with people who are invested in becoming open, in developing ideas, and putting them into action: people who know when it is time to be open, and when it is time to be closed. Jim seems to be saying roughly the same thing, and if there is something that takes the TALONS learners beyond what other groups might accomplish in similar settings is never so much about the individual parts, or their unique talents, but their commitment to becoming a whole that is greater than the sum of those parts.

When he retired a few years ago, our school’s legendary sage of a drama teacher Richard Dixon told me, “Every class is just another opportunity for students to learn to form communities.”

Every class, online or face to face, indoors or under a canopy of trees, an engagement with the timeless process of knowing ourselves and knowing one another, and creating the story of our journey together.

Gleneagle Radio Bumpers

Though I’ve been something of a stranger in the DS106iverse this time around so far, I have been thinking about the brilliant evolution of the course design – which Jim tells me is (at least part of) the genius of Martha Burtis. Specifically, I think the Assignment Repository is a glimpse of open classroom learning that simply establishes a framework for student/participant-choice and teacher/peer-facilitation that (much like the ds106.us site architecture and aggregation that I’ve written and spoke about before) I am eager to incorporate in my own classroom(s).

Which is where this post finds me, sharing not only my effort to produce a few Gleneagle Radio bumpers, but also a glimpse of the setup in this semester’s group of guitar students, who are able to fulfill their course work by choosing from a variety of assignments across several categories (and, if they don’t like what they find: go ahead and create their own). In addition to documenting their goals, and completed work on individual wiki pages attached to the class site, they are also encouraged to add their work to the corresponding Assignment page to create a repository of exemplars of the various projects, recordings and videos.

As we’ve made a habit of broadcasting from Gleneagle concerts, classrooms and other events, I hope that our school’s three guitar classes create ample fodder for our upcoming shows.

For my part, here are my first forays into the Bumper-business:

Gleneagle Radio Bumper #1 by Bryanjack

Gleneagle Radio Bumper #2 by Bryanjack

Live Presentation from @GleneagleMusic – Radio Bumper by Bryanjack

Learning in Public

You can view the continued installments here: Day 3, Day 6.

It’s been said and discussed often here and many places that a real shift for educators is moving from teacher to learner. Not so much moving, we still need teachers, expertise matters but until we see ourselves as learners and intentionally show are students we can’t be the educator our students need us to be. The Learning Project

I have been following Dean Shareski‘s recent drive to learn guitar as part of his work with preservice teachers in Saskatchewan, and thought I would extend my support of his Learning Project into my own instruction (of guitar) by making it a goal to learn to play the Pearl Jam song, “Daughter.

My students are working toward a performance next week, and as a challenge to them to use their class time until them to make the best performance possible, I vowed to work out the rhythm and intricacies of a song that – for the moment – is beyond my grasp as a musician, and plan to document my progress (and presentation) here, and on Youtube.

As it is pretty serendipitous that he is doing it at the exact same time, I’m amending this post to include reference to Alan Levine’s efforts to share his journey in learning how to play the harmonica. Alan points to four things he admires about the process Dean kicked off:

  • As a teacher, he is doing the same project he is asking his students to do. I cannot say how powerful this is, it is the thing Jim Groom has done all along in his digital storytelling courses (even before ds106) and was something I always respected Barbara Ganley for doing when she was teaching writing at Middlebury College. This changes the entire student/teacher dynamic.
  • Learning is happening in public. Dean is showing the example of examining what he is doing by putting it out in public. Not the final project, but the process. This ought to happen all the time.
  • The network is providing People are responding to his posts with suggestions, resources. etc.
  • Narrate the process doing this in video makes you reflect to an audience, but more importantly yourself. As you progress, the videos should chart your progress (can someone say “assessment”?)

Thanks to  @DrGarcia for connecting the dots and helping the learning continue.