Planning Assessments

I recently launched a unit on the European Union for a grade 9 Individuals and Societies class, as it lends itself nicely to inter-disciplinary themes, including Politics, Economics, and Geography. (There are interesting links to History and Psychology as well, though these are not the focus of the unit I’ve designed). One of the two standards being pursued–adopted from the Common Core Plus— is that students will be able to analyse how cooperation and conflict influences political, economic, and social contexts. Having broken down the standard into its component parts, the first strand we will focus on is: analyse how conflict influences economic contexts. To satisfy this objective, students need to be able to identify forms of conflict, and features associated with an “economic context.” The following formative assessments were designed to ensure students meet this objective:

  1. Students complete a K-W-L chart to assess their prior knowledge of conflict as it relates to the European conflict. 

This formative assessment was designed based on the understanding that learning is a constructive process, that new information is built upon, and filtered through the sediments of a students’ prior beliefs and understandings. A K-W-L chart is one way to access this prior knowledge.

2. Students will identify three statistics and two examples to support the claim that  “refugees are influencing the economic context amongst Shengen countries in Europe.” 

A paragraph on the economics of Shengen will be provided to students from this article by the European Council on Foreign Relations. I am currently in active dialogue with the English teacher to develop the academic writing skills of grade 9. By exercising their ability to identify evidence and examples, they will be better prepared to use evidence and examples when they write their own essays.

3. Students will storyboard the links between the Syrian Civil War and the economic context among Shengen countries. 

I find storyboards to be an inclusive and effective way to support causal explanation development in students. Using images and text to illustrate the relationship between the Syrian Civil War and Shengen economics will allow EAL learners to access the learning experiences, while providing sufficient challenges for native English speakers.


Understanding and Applying Standards


In 2016-2017 my school will be adopting a single-set of standards for all subject areas. To prepare myself for this innovation, I’ve been getting familiar with the Common Core Plus (Common Core for US based overseas schools). Throughout this process I’ve learned quite a bit about unpacking standards, backwards mapping, and writing objectives.

Previously, I would include several standards in my unit plans with the intention of addressing them all. For instance, I may have four or five standards, each with the complexity of the following:

1.12.d  Analyze the impact of  revolution on politics, economies,  and societies. 

Now, after fully engaging with the “unpacking” process, I realise this method was neither smart nor attainable. To fully satisfy the standard listed above, a student would have to deeply understand how revolutions impact a) politics b) economies, and c) societies. They would need to know what revolutions were, and be able to distinguish between a political, economic, and social impact. This one strand could require 4-6 weeks of study. I have therefore become far more parsimonious in my selection of standards for each unit plan.

As for “backwards mapping, ” I think we all have been told, and see the importance in beginning with the end in mind. However it is only recently, with the more rigorous application of standards, that I have approached this in a more systematic way. For this, the UBD framework has been fantastic. To simplify the process, I have been thinking more in terms of what students will Know (facts), what they will Understand (transfer), and what they will Be able to do (skills and advanced mental operations). I now think more critically about what sort of operations a students brain will be able to do at the end of the unit, that it perhaps could not do previously. I’m also more cognisant of the scaffolding of skills necessary for the student to demonstrate the new understandings. While backwards mapping requires more time and care than traditional approaches to unit planning, the clarity it brings results in better teaching, and students who are more engaged, as they know what is expected from them. Effectively designed formative assessments are critical in making sure the students know how far along they are towards meeting the expectations.

The third area that has been getting more critical attention from me lately is objectives. In some sense, I feel that a thorough unpacking of standards goes a long way in defining the objectives for a teacher. For example, unpacking the standard mentioned above (1.12.d  Analyze the impact of  revolution on politics, economies,  and societies. ), it’s clear that individual lessons would need to be devoted to ensuring that students:

Know: what a revolution involves, and could identify specific examples. Students would also need to know how to distinguish between politics, economics, and societies, while also being able to see the overlaps between these three categories.

Understand: that revolutions are a destabilising force that can topple governments, lead to economic depressions, and create social divisions.

Be able to: recognise and account for continuities and changes in systems of governance, economics, and societies, as a result of revolutions; and be able to demonstrate this understanding orally, visually, and in writing.

One note of caution on the use of strict objectives. Often teachers like to post these objectives on the white board, in the belief that it provides students and teachers with clear expectations for the lesson. This is likely true. At the same time, by saying effectively “You will be learning this!,” it sends a strong message that students are at the mercy of the teachers interests and beliefs. It is important to allow space for the co construction of learning goals.

Thank you for reading!

Standards and Backwards Mapping

It is increasingly understood that interdisciplinary learning enhances deeper learning. As part of my personal learning goals, I’m therefore trying to create units that meaningfully integrate multiple subject areas. Recently I launched a unit ambitiously titled: European Union, as it seemed an ideal and relevant theme for integrating aspects of History, Economics, Politics, and Geography. To avoid the risk of having too much breadth, while overlooking depth, I’m intending to anchor the unit with specific learning objectives. Below you will find the core standard we will be pursuing across the unit, ideas for assessing the attainment of the standard, and learning experiences to enable access to the standard.

Context: An international secondary school in Hong Kong. Grade 9 students. The subject is Individuals and Societies.

Unit title: European Union

Stage 1: What is the desired result? At the end of this unit, students will be able to   Analyze how cooperation and conflict influence political, economic, and social conditions. (Common Core Plus, History Standard for Grade 9, 2.12g).

This particular standard was selected as it anchored the huge topic ‘European Union’ into manageable and significant themes such as ‘cooperation,’ and ‘conflict,’ while embedding these themes into economic, political, and social contexts. Moreover, as the targeted students are in grade 9, analytical skills are increasingly critical to academic success.

The following factual, conceptual, and debatable questions will drive the inquiry:

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Using the KUD framework for unpacking standards, by the end of this unit, students will: Know four forms of political and economic cooperation amongst European states, and two sources of conflict. Understand how conflict influences the political context of various member states. Be able to reach evidence based conclusions on variations in economic development amongst three EU member states.

Stage 2: Assessment Evidence. How will I know students are attaining the desired result? 

  1. Using a Google Forms Quiz to check fact-based understanding of the four systems of cooperation amongst European states.
  2. Comparative line graph analysis of variations in economic development amongst three member states of the EU.
  3. A debate on the topic: Should the U.K. exit the EU on June 23rd? Students will be divided into four different interests groups, each representing a different perspective on “Brexit,” both pros and cons.

Stage 3: Learning experiences

What learning experiences will enable the students to meet the desired result? 

  1. Students complete a K-W-L chart to assess prior knowledge and learning goals for the unit
  2. Complete a jig-saw activity, in which four groups of students are assigned to research and present to classmates on one of the four forms of cooperation in the European countries.
  3. Create a Popplet concept map for identifying what is meant by “economic conditions,” “political conditions,” and “social conditions.”
  4. Using the Twitter hashtag #globalinteractions, students will retweet articles posted by @ Europe Union, which discuss how cooperation or conflict has influenced economic, political, and social conditions. They will individually discuss the selected article and justify their categorisation.