Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Module 2: Content Framing Questions

This module has helped me think about using standards, CFQs, or formative assessment in the following ways…

This week's module, for me, was all about the process of bringing standards and CFQs together.

I spent quite a bit of time pondering this module because I didn't really understand how CFQs work in an English classroom. I watched the videos and lesson modules several times before I was finally able to grasp the very basics of what to do. This was extremely frustrating for me since I usually understand ideas the first time around.

The standards for English are very different than the standards for other core subjects. Other subjects have specific concepts students must master. For example, one of Alabama's Biology Standards is:

2.) Describe cell processes necessary for achieving homeostasis, including active and passive transport, osmosis, diffusion, exocytosis, and endocytosis.

•  Identifying functions of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids in cellular activities
•  Comparing the reaction of plant and animal cells in isotonic, hypotonic, and hypertonic solutions
•  Explaining how surface area, cell size, temperature, light, and pH affect cellular activities
•  Applying the concept of fluid pressure to biological systems
Examples: blood pressure, turgor pressure, bends, strokes

Compare that to one of Alabama's English Standards for grade 10:

30.) Write routinely over extended time frames, including time for research, reflection, and revision, and shorter time frames such as a single sitting or a day or two for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences. [W.9-10.10]

The standards for English are much broader and are skills based rather than content based. This can pose a challenge for an education student learning to write CFQs. A great overall Essential Question for biology is "How does life happen?" For English, it's more about choosing an overall theme for the year and selecting materials related to that theme. Perhaps it's just semantics in choosing to call it a Essential Question versus a Theme.

The role playing between Abe and Maria last week stressed projects based on standards and moving from there. I got stuck on choosing standards and trying to develop my Essential Questions from that. Once I backed away from that approach and chose a "Big Idea Word," the process was less bumpy. I also took a look at Project Designs Unit Plan Indeso I could see some of the questions used in an English/Language Arts classroom. I bounced ideas off another student in the class and friends who teach English to make sure I was on the right track. In addition to all of this, I searched the web to find examples of CFQs in the English classroom and PBL lesson plans to see the big questions those teachers were asking. Basically, I used the 21st Century Skills we need to use in the classroom to help me understand the concepts better.

In the end, I chose a novel unit on the book "Ender's Game" because it fit in with the standards. I was afraid that I was doing this wrong, but I clicked on the icon at the end of Activity 2, Step 2 and discovered this gem: Choosing to write Curriculum-Framing Questions by beginning with big ideas or content-specific ideas is a personal preference.

All of my worrying about doing it right or wrong was for nothing! The only thing that mattered was I developed a broad essential question, several unit questions and specific content questions.

I definitely prefer working from the middle out. I am task oriented, but I need to see the big picture to know where I'm going. Recognizing this about myself will be an asset as I develop lessons. I know I need to choose material first, then build from there. As difficult as it to choose an overarching Essential Question for English based solely on the standards, once a theme is chosen, finding materials to fit the theme and developing questions from there is much easier. 

The biggest difficulty after choosing an Essential Question for a novel unit, is narrowing down the Unit Questions. Books typically have so many themes, and a good book, like "Ender's Game" tackles issues ranging from the rights of children to war and even to the rights of the individual versus the needs of society.  The specific Content Questions come easily enough through vocabulary words, settings, and characters. 

The standards tie directly in to how is the novel unit is handled in the classroom. Naturally, students will read the book, but what they do with that information is where the standards come in to play. Once those standards are aligned with 21st Century Skills, the projects begin to take shape. 

For my "Ender's Game" Novel Unit, we begin with the overall Essential Question: Can one person impact society?  Unit Questions address the themes relating to choices individuals make, the power individuals have, and individual responsibilities. The Content Questions for units in an English classroom, while specific, may also lead to discussions as to the intent of the author in choosing those particular events or that name for a character.

These are important ideas for the middle and upper grades. While they may understand the influence they have on those immediately around them, they may not feel they have an overall impact or importance to society. Students can further explore how small acts can create a ripple effect in communities and still have an important impact on their communities. This is where the real world meets the literary world and the students are able to find a personal connection to the content.

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