Planning for complexity

Every box in a unit planner has a world with its own economy inside it.

The rationale behind the process and elemental design of the unit planner requires the person planning to pay close attention to the learning being planned: its purposes, processes, and the end in mind. When we plan using the unit planning process, we make connections between our intentions and the outcomes the unit facilitates in the learning of the students. The intention is what’s in the planner. The outcomes are what results from the summative assessment. In between, we take action through pedagogical considerations and specific learning engagements that take our students from our intentions to their outcomes. These qualities of the unit planning process demand from the teacher his or her own inquiry into connections in the context of teaching and learning.

In the Inquiry section alone, our unit planner asks us to create these connections.

  • Connections between the concepts, context and the content expressed in the Statement of Inquiry
  • Connections between the concepts, context, content and skills in the Approaches to Learning box
  • Connections between the learning objectives and assessment in the Justified relationship between the Statement of inquiry and the summative assessment

These connections ask us to synthesize, to combine elements into a new form. We connect the concepts, context and content of the unit and synthesize this combination of elements into a Statement of Inquiry, for instance. Perhaps deliberately crafting our synthesis asks us to deliberately analyse our intentions as well.

Analysing the objectives

Unpacking objectives for unit planning requires us to ask the question, What learning is implicit in this objective?

For example, suppose a unit intends to teach this objective,

Objective A. Analysing
i. analyse the content, context, language, structure, technique and style of text(s) and the relationships among texts (Language and literature Subject Guide, 2014, p. 7)

Asking the question above, the learning that is implicit in this objective consists of the following considerations for the unit being planned:

1. students must read more than one text

2. students must deliberately examine how context influences a text, and this is further described in these following relationships:
a. context of author to text
b. context of unit and ideas in the text
c. context of the audience (reader, current time)

3. students must rehearse how to examine language as an author’s choice (word choice, figurative language, register, and many other devices). This also addresses technique and style.

4. students must look at the structure of genre, structure of specific text, how structure impacts readers’ experience of the text, and the like

5. students must be able to compare and contrast the texts using the concepts named in the objective strand

Unpacking the objectives allows the teacher to clearly understand what students must learn and do in the unit, so that the intended objective becomes the learned outcome.

Unpacking our objectives and strands allows us to answer these questions in our subjects:

  • How do scientists think and do science?
  • How do real authors produce text?
  • How does a footballer prepare for a match?
  • How does a designer develop a prototype?
  • How does an artist express a concept?

These conceptual questions allow for authenticity to enter and permeate our unit of inquiry. The connections between the real-life applications of disciplinary thinking through related concepts give the student ways to access the specific patterns of thinking and doing, which specialists in the discipline use to investigate within that discipline.

Considerations for the assessment

Taking the same objective and strand in the example above:

Objective A. Analysing
i. analyse the content, context, language, structure, technique and style of text(s) and the relationships among texts (Language and literature Subject Guide, 2014, p. 7)

In the unpacked list of what students have to do to achieve this objective strand, we find the following actions that need to be performed.

1. students need to break down the texts into its parts
a. word choice, figurative language, register, and many other devices, technique, style
b. how the text is organized (sequence of ideas, text type features)

2. students need to compare and contrast texts and contexts, audience imperatives, purpose

3. analysis of texts might use the following questions to prompt thinking:

  • What are the parts and features? (factual)
  • How is ____ related to ___? (conceptual)
  • What themes might match…? (debatable)
  • What inferences can you make…? (conceptual)
  • What conclusions can you draw…? (debatable)
  • What is the relationship between… and ….? What might be the distinction between…? What is the function of …? (conceptual)
  • How might it change if one part changed? (conceptual)
  • How would you categorize…? (conceptual)

Levels of complexity in Criterion A 

Taking one example question, we might be able to demonstrate the levels of complexity that analysis requires.

Let’s take the question, How would you categorize…?

To perform the thinking that this question requires, the student must know the traits or attributes of items belonging in categories.

Students must also understand the conceptual form and function of items in a category in order to classify them.

Students need to apply what they know and understand in order to eliminate items, which do not belong in a category or to include items which do belong in a category. Finally, these thinking processes allow students to break down the category using knowledge and understanding, and apply the categorization by examining relationships between the items previously known and understood.

Why objectives become criteria

The subject guide objectives are in the same language as the subject criteria. Why are they repeated, with different names?

The process shown here illustrates how our intentions documented in our unit planner must necessarily become our students’ learning documented in their performances in the assessments. Simply put, our intentions must become outcomes through the learning that we deliberately design in the process of unit planning.


  1. Hi Aloha

    I so enjoy reading your posts. They are so insightful. I’m developing a blog post and resources for our teachers and am wondering if you mind my referencing you and creating a link to your WordPress site? Your work will be of great benefit to our teachers who aw struggling to understand how to plan for inquiry.



    1. Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your comment. Of course, please link and reference to the myptoolbox as you might to help support other teachers’ learning.


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