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While walking the road to a unit’s culminating task, as I approach the end, I always remember a rather unpleasant experience with an assessment. It was the year the now forgotten Visual Interpretation criterion was introduced in Language Acquisition in MYP. This was an occasion in which I planned an assessment because I wanted to use something that I liked.
My explanation, when establishing connections with the also now forgotten significant concept, was automatically biased: I liked the stimulus so much that I was able to justify links and possibilities. Nonetheless, I hadn’t really wondered nor reflected on whether I wanted to use that stimulus to create an assessment to assess or to plant another seed in our inquiry.
The experience of choosing a resource to assess learning has taught me about the choices I make when choosing I unit to teach. Some explorations are wonderful; they yield a couple of fantastic ideas; but when we think about the fruits students (our main character in the story) will harvest, they turn out to be quite sterile.
A unit that resembles fertile soil will allow us to unfold a broad context that will magnify the learning experiences that can be designed. I have come to understand that asking myself why I want to teach this unit and why learning about its theme is important is not enough. I also want to think about how I want students to talk about statement of inquiry; at how I want students to use the big ideas generated in this unit to transfer in other scenarios; at the opportunities this unit represents for me to learn something new, and to challenge the already established parameters of learning that my relationship with students has crafted.
Above all, I have realized the importance of trying to visualize how all the understandings produced in the unit will sink in, will find room in students’ memory, become internalized and remain ready to use when the opportunity calls for it. This is not memorization; this is the ‘noble and dignified memory’ that Octavio Paz talks about when he discusses things that matter.
These fruitful ground that I call fertile units allow me to see how learning grows; how its stem grows tall; how its flower begins to blossom; how it’s growth is threatened by circumstance; and how there is always a way to make things better. In this process, my students and I observe what keeps growth from continuing; and through dialogue, we devise ways to confront difficulties, to re-use strategies that have worked before, to stop using tools that are not working, not punishing ourselves for what we cannot achieve, but reflecting on what we have not done yet, on what we needs to be done to move on.
It is this constant dialogue that occurs as a unit evolves what engages students in the learning process; what signals them to look back at the feedback they have been given and weaponize it: using it as a tool that will enable them to prevent harsh situations. Constructivism, constructionism, and connectivism are geographies that can define the weather of a good unit; feedback, approaches to teaching and learning (ATL) are the bricks and beams that we employ to build a home for our understandings; and reflection is the perfect *sobremesa.
Click here to read details of one of the most fertile units I have experienced with my students.
* Sobremesa is one of those special words in the Spanish language. It is the time spent after we finish eating, before getting up from the table. Time dedicated to chatting, socializing a bit more, digesting our food, nourishing our souls. We stay at the table as long as we possibly can. No meal is a complete one without a long sobremesa.