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Developing Unit Objectives and Essential Questions

Developing Unit Objectives and Essential Questions

Author: Katie Hou
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Hello. And thank you for joining me for Developing Unit Objectives and Essential Questions. The essential question that we will be able to answer by the end of today's tutorial is what does an exemplary unit that focuses on essential questions and unit learning objectives look like? We're going to explore closely a social studies lesson for fifth grade. Now, I realize, right now, it might be hard to read all of the writing. Don't worry. We're going to zoom in on the various features to look closely at what the original Common Core State Standards are, the major understandings, the essential questions, and the unit objectives.

Let's begin by looking at the Common Core State Standards. Now, this unit, in practice, would include reading standards as well. But I've chosen to focus solely on the writing standards for social studies. So when you're looking at a Common Core State Standard, it's laid out like this. Common Core State Standard is abbreviated as CCSS. Then, it's .subjectarea. This is ELA. There's only ELA and mathematics. Under ELA, you have science and history. -thesubjectarea, which, in this case, is literacy. This is writing. The W stands for writing. Then, you have the grade level and the standard number. So we're looking at standards 1, 4, 5, and 6.

Common Core State Standard 5.1 says that students will write opinion pieces on topics or texts supporting a point of view with reasons and information. Standard 4 says that students will produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. Common Core State Standard 5 says that with guidance and support from peers and adults, students will develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. And standard success with some guidance and support from adults, students will use technology, including the internet to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others, demonstrate sufficient command of keyboard skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single setting.

We're going to shift our focus to the major understandings for the unit as a whole. The major understandings for this overall unit are that students will work collaboratively to research a topic. Students in those various groups will individually write opinion pieces on the topic they researched referring to the text for support. And students will work in small groups to peer edit one another's work. Students will work through the writing process. And students will use technology to produce and publish their work. So as you can see, these major understandings are closely connected to the Common Core State Standards.

Next, we're going to move to the essential questions of the unit. And remember, that essential questions are important, because they are encountered again and again in life. And they're typically critical within a discipline or topic. And they help students make sense of core content and ideas. Characteristics of essential questions include that they promote inquiry into the big ideas or major understandings of a topic. They promote higher level thought, discourse, and new understanding for the students. And they require students to consider evidence presented, justify their ideas, and consider alternatives. They also promote meaningful connections with higher learning and other experiences. They also create the opportunity for a transfer of learning to different content areas.

So our essential questions, specifically, are why do I need to use the writing process? How does using evidence give weight to my comments? Why is it important to produce my work for an authentic audience? And why is it important to read and understand nonfiction texts?

Now, we're going to look at the unit objectives. And this is for the mini lesson, which in this case is going to be that students are writing their paper and referring to the nonfiction texts that they read for evidence. By the end of these lessons, students will know how. So by the end of these lessons, students will know how to isolate information relevant to them in an informational or nonfiction text. By the end of these lessons, the students will know how to write an opinion piece supported with facts. And by the end of these lessons, students will know how to use Google Docs to type, edit, and collaborate with one another on papers. And lastly, by the end of these lessons, students will know how to use technology tools to publish their work.

So hopefully, the connection between the unit objectives and the essential questions is clear. We're asking ourselves why do I need to use the writing process? And then, through the unit objective, students are going through the writing process using Google Docs. So hopefully, that is then answering that essential question. This is related to the Common Core State Standard W.5.5 of with guidance and support from peers and adults, students will develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Another example is why is it important to produce my work for an authentic audience? This essential question is supported by the unit objective of students will use technology tools to publish their work. These both connect to the Common Core State Standard W.5.6, which reads with some guidance and support from adults, students will use technology, including the internet to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others, demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting. These are just two examples of the many connections that exist in this lesson plan. So as I said before, please feel free to pause it and look at it more in depth.

Let's reflect. Do you think you will write lesson plans that include essential questions and unit objectives? Why or why not?

In today's lesson, we answered the essential question of what does an exemplary unit that focuses on essential questions and unit learning objectives look like? For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource.

Thank you for joining me, and happy teaching.

Notes on “Developing Unit Objectives and Essential Questions”

(00:00-00:14) Introduction

(00:15-01:21) Exemplary Lesson Introduction

(01:22-02:50) Common Core State Standards and Major Understandings

(02:51-04:04) Essential Questions

(04:05-04:50) Unit Objectives

(04:51-06:05) Connections

(06:06-06:19) Reflection

(06:20-06:49) Conclusion

Additional Resources

Differentiated Instruction - Sites for Understanding Essential Questions

This ASCD article provides examples of essential questions in a variety of disciplines.
http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109004/chapters/What-Makes-a-Question-Essential%A2.aspx

Developing the questions for project-based learning

This blog post by Melinda Kolk explains how to develop essential questions for Project Based Learning. Kolk provides simple steps for educators to follow as they design their projects and questions. In addition, she offers a link to see samples other districts have developed.
http://web.tech4learning.com/blog-0/bid/60418/Developing-the-questions-for-project-based-learning