Unit Defense Paper (One Page? How?)

This unit, which is designed to exist part of the way through an entire year long course covering Alaska Native literature, is designed for low-level high school students in rural Alaska. It is assumed that there will be a small number of students in this unit and they will have been in this course all year long and be familiar with course structures. I envision them as being, most likely, ninth graders with some experience with English but little experience studying Alaska Native stories outside f the context of their own lives or elementary school culture classes. I am not sure how many students would ever enroll in the course but my guess is that the numbers would be fairly low, likely below ten per semester.

Many rural Alaska schools have surprisingly decent libraries, so that is obviously important in this unit. The course is not particularly designed to impart technological skills so there is little in the way of explaining complex tools. I have tried to include multimedia somewhat, as well as student interaction as best I can. I believe the new inclusion of student interaction is executed at a level that best suits.

Student interaction is a foundational element in teaching lower level students (Burke, 2008). It helps them feel more comfortable and it helps them build ideas off of each other, so that even if they’re studying different things they can share an intellectual space with each other and grow ideas together (Lorber and Pierce, 1990). This ideology lies within the realm of constructivist theories, as I hope to position students as active learners rather than passive vessels (Ally, 2008). Students need to be involved in both designing their own educational paths and helping to teach other students, otherwise the entire educational process online can find itself being remarkably similar to 19th century mail-in correspondence courses.

The design of the course has now undergone many revisions and I have now come to a version of the unit that I am happy with. The activities are very loose and based largely on students building their ideas up to a single project. English lends itself very well to a longer brainstorming process than do many subjects, so I feel as though the current structure basically just builds up and up for weeks, which I like. I am picturing these potential ninth graders in rural Alaska as being largely at a level that necessitates long drawn out spiral building processes. The fact of the matter is that the education works best when you start from the end and work your way backwards, so that students can always be building to something (Burke, 2008). The current activities are all designed to force students to engage in activities that should make the final paper and presentation easier to conceptualize. That is the hope, anyway.

The course has three major outcomes, all of which, like I said, should help move students towards the final outcome which is the paper. The first two outcomes are peppered throughout the course; within three weeks students will have met the first two outcomes and absorbed the products of other students also meeting those outcomes. The student interaction in the first three weeks is designed to ensure that if some students are having difficulties meeting those first two outcomes, they can bounce other ideas off of each other. The fourth week’s peer edits are designed to make sure that students have no problems meeting the third and most important unit objective. If the first two build into the third one, and all of the activities are designed to build into each other, I am fairly confident now that the course is designed in such a way that student have to meet all the outcomes.

In short, my goal for this unit is to create a unit that allows students to come in without much background information and follow a path that most interests them. Obviously that puts a kind of unusual responsibility on students, but I am okay with that. That is my intention here; transferring responsibility for course design from the teacher to the students is part of what I am shooting for. I hope the unit proves successful, and I am fairly confident that this unit is designed in such a way that any student who works their way through it will meet my objectives and then some.



Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.) (pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

Burke, J. (2008). The English teacher’s companion: A complete guide to classroom, curriculum, and the profession (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lorber, M., & Pierce, W. (1990). Objectives, methods, and evaluation for secondary teaching (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

2 thoughts on “Unit Defense Paper (One Page? How?)

  1. Hey Nicholas,

    Congratulations! Very nicely done. I’m glad to hear your positive perspective and I agree that I think students will achieve your objectives and then some within this learning unit.

    I think you correctly identify the challenges you will face and I’d be curious to see your whole course sketched out and how this unit fits within that larger context. It is fairly reasonable to maintain cohesiveness with a thin cohort for 4 weeks – but the challenge only continues to grow over a whole year. Each week presents a new opportunity for students to become distracted or to lose connection. Maintaining that connection over the long term is one of your biggest challenges.

    Does it make sense to have students begin to author their own stories? Or perhaps that is a capstone achievement? They could potentially share drafts and provide feedback on one another’s work? – This falls outside of the context of this learning unit, of course.

    You have a solid beginning on that larger framework – and probably now have your own ideas for where you’d like to go from here. Please share as the rest comes into focus.

    Congratulations on reaching this point and completing this phase. Well done, Sir!


  2. Hi Nicholas,

    I just went through your course and defense. Your course navigation is stellar. I think that can be a really hard one to get right and you definitely did it. I will be taking a cue from the links to the next lesson at the bottom of the page. The links to outside resources (like the crash course video from week one and the Lifehacker article) were thoughtfully chosen and appeared at just the right moment.

    I know your edits are done, but the only thing I might still suggest is offering some criteria for what they should base their region selection on. You caution them to choose carefully, but I wasn’t sure what they should be watching out for! What are the potential pitfalls?

    I think my favorite thing about your entire lesson is that you let them choose to narrate their presentation ahead of time or give the presentation live. I think that is an awesome way to give some options for personal style and comfort levels while still pushing everyone to the next level. You have a couple other moments of choice that were nice to see as well.

    Mostly, I hope you get to use this! It seems to me it could be adapted for a higher age level and with adjustment in the writing expectations could be used at a college level. It would probably require digging into some of those other units, but UAA has a course on the books called:

    AKNS A230 Oral Traditions of Alaska Native People 3 Credits – See more at: https://catalog.uaa.alaska.edu/coursedescriptions/akns/#sthash.PmKVKZUt.dpuf

    Just sayin’

Leave a Reply