Appendix A:3 week unit plan
Teaching Resources Index
1 Fragmented learning refers to the unsystematic, unorganized way in which students are exposed to information and ideas. Fragmented learning is revealed when students are unable to connect information and ideas within and across lessons and units, even though these connections may be readily apparent to the teacher. Various facts, ideas, events, generalizations, and so on may be acquired, but these learnings seem to occupy separate, isolated compartments in students' minds. Teachers can check for content fragmentation in their own units in the following ways: List 10-15 facts, events, ideas, and/or people that were addressed in class over the past week or that appeared on a recent exam. Ask students if these items can be connected in some meaningful way. Similarly, ask students to generate 10-15 facts, events, ideas, and/or people from a recent unit and then have them create an outline or diagram that connects these items in a meaningful way.
2 Superficial learning refers to students' limited exposure to almost everything they study in social studies. Rarely are students asked or allowed to explore material in-depth. This situation prevents students from acquiring rich, complex, nuanced, and personally constructed understanding of ideas, events, and issues, and ensures that lower- rather than higher-order thinking dominates their cognitive activity. Note that superficial learning is different from fragmented learning, though the two barriers often occur together. One can imagine students gaining a cohesive (non-fragmented) understanding of the events and underlying causes that led to United States entry into World War I, yet their understanding is superficial as they cannot explain any event or cause in more than a few sentences. Conversely, one can imagine students gaining in-depth (non-superficial) understanding of various New Deal programs, yet their understanding is fragmented as they cannot make connections between the various programs or see the relationship between these programs and the underlying philosophy of the New Deal.
3 Passive learning refers to students receiving the textbook's and/or teacher's repackaged declarative statements about knowledge constructed by experts and other authorities. Didactic teaching and other transmission forms of instruction shove students from the playing field to the sidelines, reducing their participation in knowledge construction to that of an inactive, disengaged spectator. Instead of developing the intellectual abilities (and dispositions) needed to construct knowledge, student-spectators simply comprehend and recall the performances (or constructions) of others.
4 A fundamental assumption of this model is that students are capable of analyzing an issue at the same time they are developing knowledge of it. Stated another way, students need not spend days or weeks on content acquisition before they are allowed to wrestle with an issue. A related assumption is that students are less able to learn and remember information and ideas without the organizing and motivating power of an issue (or some other question or problem).
5 Issue-based curriculum design need not be exclusively teacher driven. Central issues can be identified by the teacher, students, or both—either before the analysis begins or during the early stages of study. A potential problem with this approach is that teachers may have little time to determine if resource materials are available to adequately address the issue selected by students. On the other hand, with greater ownership of the curriculum, students are more likely to experience the activity as authentic and intrinsically valuable.
6 If there is a desire or need to study other aspects of the period (e.g., various religious issues of the time, the colonists' contentious relations with Native Americans), additional issue-based units, brief or long, could follow or precede the present unit. An alternative approach is to embed these tangential topics (maybe a day or two of lessons) into the current unit of study. This, of course, has a fragmenting effect on student thinking and learning.
7 The source of this coverage pressure is often teachers' substantial subject matter knowledge which leads to over-inclusion of topics and issues. This has led one outstanding social studies teacher to observe: "The more a teacher knows, the more important it is that the teacher have an effective pedagogy to hold the information in restraint" (Onosko, 1989). A central unit issue serves to keep teachers' knowledge in check.
8 Systems or methods of classifying issues overlap; that is, many issues can be labeled as more than one type. Consider, for example, a few of the issues just mentioned: How should nuclear waste be disposed? (present, policy); What would happen if abortions were outlawed? (future, factual); Were neanderthals absorbed into the Cro-Magnon population or killed off? (past, factual, disciplinary). See Newmann & Oliver (1970) for a more detailed discussion of the types of issues one might encounter when exploring issues of public controversy.
Appendix A:3 week unit plan
Teaching Resources Index