Where to end up? (Goals for the 1st MP)

I am not one to plan my entire curriculum, lesson by lesson, before the beginning of the school year. Obviously, after teaching it once or a few times, that happens to some extent, but what comes from that once or a few times in terms of lessons, I’m not married to. I’m more than willing to change and adapt for the new class and new school year. However, this year I want to have a clear goal in mind at least for the end of the first marking period. I know where I want to end up for the year, as seen in my previous post, but that feels SO far away on Sept. 2nd. Also, if I’m honest, it’s pretty easy to get lost and circle back a few times along the way if I’m not careful (though sometimes getting lost and circling back in teaching is good and necessary for the kids). But I don’t want to do that because of lack of planning or lack of a goal. Instead, I want to make benchmarks, just like I do for my students, of where I want to be by the end of the first marking period. 

However, instead of making it a “how far I need to be in the curriculum or the readings” type goal, I want to make it skill specific (and then by proxy, content specific). So, regardless of the level, I would like my 11th grade students to know and understand the following by the end of the first marking period:

1. Students will understand the origin of the term “American Dream” and how it has changed over time, including what elements of the country and history and world impact that definition and our access to it, as citizens.

2. Students will have a firm understanding of theme, will be able to track it over the course of a novel, and begin to comment on its effectiveness and meaning beyond a text. 

3. Students will be able to identify basic structures of grammar and conventions (tenses, parts of speech, types of sentences) and apply that knowledge to preliminary understanding of commas and semi-colon. 

4. Students will be able to develop a complex thesis statement, outside of the “listing what they will talk about later” style, and choose appropriate sources as evidence to support their reasoning. 

What about you? Where do you want your students to be by the end of the first marking period?


Where to end up? Goals for the Year

This post couldn’t come at a more perfect time. I’m visiting a friend in Dallas right now, and last night we had a conversation late into the night (the way teachers do) about the idea of differentiation and goals. When we say differentiation, we know that we mean things like chunking assignments or allowing for more time or offering more supports so the struggling student can reach the same goal set for the non-struggling student. But, the question we spent a long time sorting through was, does that mean we’re changing our expectations for students based on their abilities or are we supposed to have the same goals for all students? Does that really do our students a service, having the same goals when they’re not the same? Or does not having the same goals inevitably mean we’re lowering our expectations? These were some tough questions for midnight on a Wednesday, and I’m still thinking about it.

Here’s where we came out – we have two sets of goals. First, we have goals for proficiency for the grade level, where we want ALL students to be by the end of the year and by the time they’re moving onto the next year (whatever level that may be). Second, we have goals by level. So for an honors class, I might then add to that grade level goal, in order to differentiate (and extend) for the honors students and push them further. Whereas for those students on-level, I might have the same grade level goals as I do for the course, and then adjust based on the specific students I have in the room versus as a whole, for the course. Does that make sense to anyone else? I feel like, in my head, I get that. But I’m still not sure if I’m “right” – can we even be “right” in education or is this one of those questions that comes down to philosophy? 

So, with what I thought about and decided last night, and continuing with the UBD-style planning for the upcoming school year, here are the goals I have for my students:

11th grade goals (comes from some extend from PA Core Standards though more focused based on my curriculum): 

By the end of 11th grade, students will…

– be able to identify, track, and analyze theme throughout a text

– connect (synthesize) texts to one another by theme 

– determine author’s purpose and identify supporting elements from the text that proves that

– be able to write a clear thesis that they revisit in each supporting paragraph in order to better prove their argument

– be able to write an effective introductory paragraph that employs various strategies (broad to narrow, historical background, anecdote, quotation) but avoids tropes like “since the dawn of man” and a rhetorical question

– be able to write an effective conclusion paragraph that does just repeat or summarize their previous points

– identify and eliminate passive voice to improve diction

– employ appropriate transition words between and within paragraphs

– determine meaning of tier three vocabulary words using root words, context clues, and connotation

– participate clearly and regularly in classroom discussions of texts and analysis

– communicate with classmates clearly 


By the end of 11th grade honors, students will…

– be able to do all of the above

– evaluate the effectiveness of an author’s purpose

– vary their diction and syntax to create voice in writing

– examine shades of meaning in diction and choose words based on their precise meaning for writing

– challenge other student’s thinking and play devil’s advocate in an argument to further their own purpose/thesis/claim


Obviously these are not hard and fast rules, but I feel based on our long conversation last night, the level of proficiency for my 11th grades is what’s listed first. Then, higher level differentiation starts in the second list. This will not only be used for honors students, as we all know sometimes we have higher level students in a non-honors class or higher than honors students in an honors class. So beyond this, I will use my best judgement. But I would love feedback on this. Is this where you see your 11th graders? Do you push further? How do you view differentiation versus proficiency? Are they at odds or on the same path? 

Backwards Planning – Understanding by Design

In our district, Understanding by Design (UDB) is old hat (in a good way). Everyone knows it and uses it. We’ve had Grant Wiggins come and speak, work with us a few times. and it’s the basis of how pretty much every curriculum planning starts in our district. None of this is to brag. But I assumed, based on this interaction, that everyone knows about UDB and Wiggins and McTighe, but recently, I’ve learned that’s not the case. 

Without outlining their entire work and replacing their text, because really how could I, I wanted to provide a brief overview here of how I start my planning process with UDB in August each year. If this seems useful to you, I HIGHLY suggest buying the book I linked above because it is easily the most important and useful thing I own when it comes to curriculum planning.

So the premise of UDB is backwards planning or “starting with the end in mind,” as the gentlemen say. For me, I look at the course I’m provided and try to think about what I want my students to know by the end of the year. As someone who teaches high school English, I’m a strong proponent of skill mastery usually being the end goal, and the level of mastery I desire and the specificity of what they master comes from their grade level, ability level, and what I know they need to enter the following year’s classroom (in my case, their senior year of high school). 

Once I have those end goals listed, I then start planning backwards. How will I know my students are there? What assessments will I provide to determine their level of proficiency? I then design and/or list assessment (projects, essays, presentations, etc) and create rubrics that outline my expectations. 

Again, backwards from here, I think about how will I prepare them for these assessments? What do I need to cover and how in order to get them ready to reach mastery on these skills/assessments? This is where I plan my activities and formative assessments. I try to match the parts of the rubric to formative assessments and check-points over the course of the unit and the year, so I can see how the students progress. Doing this, I can catch them before the major assessments if there are issues or misunderstandings. Depending on my time, I might also put engagement strategies in here and various formative assessment strategies, to keep things fresh and interesting in the classroom. 

Only after all of this do I add in the content. For me, the focus is on what I want my kids to learn HOW to do by the end of the year, not WHAT. The what is still important to me – I’m an English teacher, after all, and I love books, especially classics (though YA lit is a huge thing for me too!). Once I have the rest of the plan done, I match content to the assessments and activities, asking myself which content will best convey these ideas and skills to the students? As much as people may think English teachers just pick books they love (and in a different way, we do), we usually pick books we know are great at illustrating things like theme, syntax, imagery, etc. In picking those, that’s where what we like might come into play, but what comes first is what teaches the skill or idea best. 

Usually, within picking the content, I try to use a theme to connect the texts. I wrote an earlier post on trying to decide between units by theme or skill and concluded I prefer a balance of both. With this style of planning, you can get that. Once you have your skills covered, then you can pick your theme to unify your texts as well, giving students a grounding for discussion and connection (another set of skills!). 

Obviously, this is an EXTREMELY rough outline of UDB, so I highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of the book if you can (either edition). Let me know below – how do you plan? Have you used UDB? Do you use another style? What’s your process?