When planning units for my students I tend to rely on the method of planning backwards outlined by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in
Understanding by Design
. Wiggins and McTighe suggest that teachers begin with the questions that will guide their unit and the understandings that they seek to build in their students. They describe "essential questions" as "questions that lie at the heart of a subject or curriculum" and promote inquiry or "uncoverage" of a subject.
They go on to say that these questions should be open ended and produce many different plausible responses. Wiggins and McTighe also distinguish between overarching and topical understandings, describing them as insights that are either general and transferable or specific to a particular topic.
The essential questions that guide this unit focus on the experience of war and the purpose of war stories: What is it like to experience war? Why read war stories? In considering these questions, I ultimately want students to understand that the unique experience of war allows for many seemingly contradictory ideas to coexist in tension with each other. I want students to see that they can come to such an understanding by carefully studying the art and poetry of war, and that their lives are fraught with similar contradictions. I also want students to understand that claims must be based on the careful analysis of relevant evidence.
This unit is also designed to teach students a number of essential skills. At the end of the unit, students will be able to identify significant details in both paintings and poems, and raise interpretive questions concerning their meaning. Students will also be able to write a thesis statement that makes an interpretive claim describing the experience of war. Finally, they will be able to write organized paragraphs to support their interpretations using significant details as evidence.