Important steps In Designing Units
Step 1: Determine & Unpack Standards
Step 2: Group Standards into Units
Step 3: Identify Enduring Understandings tied
Step 4: Decide Themes & Big Ideas to frame
Step 5: Design Essential Questions within the
Step 6: Create Unit Performance Assessment to
Assess Priority Standards
Step 7: Write Lessons that Build Skills to the
Step 4: Decide Themes & Big IDeas
Units of Study
To frame a unit, it helps to determine the theme or topic that will be used to approach art making and study for a determined time-frame. A unit is most commonly defined as a series of specific lessons, learning experiences, and related assessments based on designated Priority Standards and related supporting standards for a topical, skills-based, or thematic focus that may last anywhere from two to six weeks. Some units naturally take longer, depending on the complexity of the standards or involvement in the creation of the work of art. However, the units should neither be too lengthy (seven to eight weeks) nor too short (five days) since they will be implemented with common formative assessments and may include complex performance events (Ainsworth, 2010).
Ainsworth recommends identifying the units according to their purpose and dominant focus throughout the unit that can be broadly categorized into one of three types: topical, skills-based, or thematic.
Topical units focus on a specific portion of a larger subject or discipline. Topical units in art might include: color, proportion, Impressionism, landscapes, portraits, etc. Skills-based units emphasize application of skills. In art this might be shading, painting, wheel-throwing, critiquing, drawing, and so on. He states that thematic units are broader in nature and emphasize connections to other topics within the same discipline or to completely different disciplines. Thematic units in art could be cultures, composition and creativity, nature, etc. "A rigorous curriculum does not have to be limited to only one of these three basic types...it often includes a combination of all three."
In Rethinking Curriculum in Art and Teaching Meaning in Artmaking, Marilyn G. Stewart and Sydney Walker recommend using Enduring Ideas or Big Ideas a foundation for units in curriculum. Stewart and Walker state that by choosing enduring ideas, you are making "a philosophical commitment to content that exceeds any one subject matter or discipline," and go on to say that, "such ideas have educational import because they link academic subject matter with life-focused issues" (Stewart & Walker, 2005, pg. 25). They support this with evidence from the Ohio State TETAC faculty's statement, "[W]hen educators shift from a dominant discipline-based orientation to a focus on "real life" issues, problems, and skills, students will find their learning more meaningful and will be more active participants in it. This enhances the making of connections and in-depth understanding of concepts, and it promotes mastery of knowledge and skills that prepare students for life in today's world" (as originally cited in Stewart & Walker, 2005, pg. 26).
Enduring Ideas are similar to themes, topics, or issues that reflect big questions about the human experience and have been investigated over time. They are broad, umbrella-like ideas that guide students in understanding what it means to be human, to live alongside others and in the natural world." (Stewart & Walker, 2005, pg. 25)
Examples of enduring ideas include identity, justice, relationships, humans and nature, power, emotions, celebration, interdependence, survival, conflict, spirituality and so on. The enduring ideas are broad,encompass human concerns over time and are inherently applicable to multiple contexts. Stewart and Walker emphasize that these concepts "demand being repeatedly taught through a range of topics, artworks, and cultural contexts if they are to be fully understood. The same enduring ideas can thus be included in the curriculum at various grade levels (2005)."
An important note to remember in the selection of enduring ideas is that they "should be guided by how important the idea is for students, what important connections the idea has with art, and what its significance for contemporary culture is (Stewart & Walker, 2005, pg. 37)."
In the Art:21 resource Getting Started: An Introduction to Teaching with Contemporary Art - Contemporary Approaches to Teaching, the authors also support teaching through themes and big ideas stating, "Integrating contemporary art and themes into teaching requires a shift from predominantly technique-driven instruction to idea-driven instruction. Many artists do not work in a single medium or technique and instead try to explore an idea, event, situation, or question through multiple media and visual strategies."