[pullquote]“Conceptual, not factual”–we were urged to prioritize it at the beginning of the year, and again at a faculty meeting this week. Yet we’re making MCQs and canned timed essay prompts straight out of 1970. Why?[/pullquote] Sent to my colleagues — many of whom will rightly say “He doesn’t need to preach this to me, because I’m in the choir!” — as we shift to planning semester 2. I’m curious how many history teachers out there are fighting the same battles, and am all ears as to tactics that have worked for you in this battle against the 1970s.
I have a dream that meetings planning semester 2 start on the conceptual and inquiry level, not the factual and knowledge level. (In other words, that they follow UbD as we’re expected to do.)
It could make for beautiful meetings if everybody came to a meeting with a response to an agenda item such as, “What’s the most interesting, challenging, provocative, real essential question you can come up with for the Age of Imperialism*?”
I’d love to hear people offer their answers–especially if their angle is more exciting than mine. Off the top of my head, I would answer for this one, for example,
“The West on Trial: To What Extent Can Imperialism Be Described as International Criminal Behavior on the Part of the West?”
Notice what this does: It doesn’t teach “an answer.” It doesn’t prescribe which facts students must learn. But it does require students to inquire and research evidence and make arguments with facts–and it provokes them out of any complacency that it’s a settled question that “the West is the Best” (that’s “an exemplary American education with an international perspective” in spades!). And since there’s no one “correct” answer, only historically supported arguments of greater or lesser force, it opens doors to real seminars with real debates.
Contrast this with listing a chronological series of Textbook Chapter Headings and making multiple choice questions unrelated to any clearly identifiable essential question. I would not enjoy that meeting, and I would not enjoy having to teach with that forced end–the common assessment–in mind.
My understanding of UbD–and I’m fairly certain it’s in the ballpark–is that this is how units should be planned. Knowledge only comes after standards and understandings and essential questions have been identified. Knowledge is meaningless if put first, and meaning is skipped over in the name of traditional “memorize this for the test” coverage.
I know I’m probably professionally too frank for many of you to handle. But I hope you’ll try to look past that and honor this attempt to understand why Understanding by Design and meaning-focused unit planning does not receive the attention it’s arguably expected to receive. “Conceptual, not factual”–we were urged to prioritize it at the beginning of the year, and again at a faculty meeting this week. Yet we’re making MCQs and canned timed essay prompts straight out of 1970. Why?
If anybody wants to have these types of meaning-focused discussions for S2 unit planning, I’m absolutely willing to spring for beer at the local Hawker Center. This is why I love teaching. And this is why I’m so frustrated that I do come off as occasionally abrasive as I do. I just don’t understand why we keep putting ladders against the wrong wall, and work so hard to climb them in our meetings. I can’t understand why we never talk about meaning.
*or WW I or WW II or the Cold War or Post-Colonialism or the War on Terror or the Rise of China