The initial stages of planning are crucial. For this very reason, they can be extremely difficult. I often use this Roman proverb as a way of explaining what can, and often does, happen when teachers start “planning” the teaching of a unit before they actually figure out what it is really about.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead there.”
I have been part of countless meetings in which teachers thrown around numerous ideas for teaching, or activities, without really having a strong sense of their purpose. This is potentially an eternal conversation as teachers are experts at coming up with lots of great ideas.
In my role as PYP Coordinator at International School Ho Chi Minh City, I am determined that teaching teams will develop a shared understanding of what the essence of each unit of inquiry really is, where they they are hoping to take their students and what they are looking for from their students. This is not a simple conversation!
If teachers can reach the point where they have a shared vision for the unit of inquiry, they are then able to allow their own teaching style and the learning interests and styles of their students to dictate what happens afterwards. They do not need to sit at a table and all agree on how they will teach the kids as it may, and probably should, look very different from one classroom to the next. Of course, sharing things that work well is a must as the unit progresses!
These “Unit of Inquiry Maps” give structure to those first conversations about the units, and show how there is a flow from central idea through to key concepts, enduring understandings, conceptual understanding rubrics and lines of inquiry. The “One Word” in the middle forces teachers to really think about the essence of the unit and is often a much harder challenge than would at first appear. In some cases, teaching teams have been horrified to find that units of inquiry that have been taught for years may actually have been about nothing at all, or about far too much!