Organizing Units and Lessons: An Exercise in Sorting Labels

Thursday, 5. December 2013

Nomenclature represents the basic language system of a discipline. It involves devising and applying labels according to conventions established by the guild. Many labels persist after a formal name has been applied. For example, hydrochloric acid is also called spirits of salt, acidium salis, or muriatic acid. However, hydrochloric acid is the official name according to rules of chemistry nomenclature.

Education also has a nomenclature, although few agree that a formal naming system exists. Nevertheless, many terms have persisted over time such as planning, instruction, and assessment. Other terms seem to change as each new generation applies its unique set of values and understandings to the process of teaching and learning. This is especially true for labels associated with unit and lesson design. ForOgranizing Units and Lessons example, in 1918, Franklin Bobbitt used objective and training experience as synonyms for what some educators nowadays call learning target and academic task. In 1946, Ralph Tyler came close to establishing something like nomenclature by using terms such as objective, instruction, activity, and assessment. Forty years later, Robert Mager contributed familiar terms like instructional objective, performance rate, and assessment criteria to the expanding glossary.

Since the initial efforts of Bobbitt, Tyler, and Mager, the number of labels for describing unit and lesson planning have increased dramatically. Educators may design a lesson according to an intended learning outcomelearning goalinstructional objective, or learning target. Units of instruction may be structured to address a standard, instructional focus, central question, essential question, or central focus. Still other labels are used for dividing lessons and units into sections, such as academic taskexperiencelearning activity, lesson segment, and lesson sequence. Yet even more terms are used to divide the lesson into parts, describing categories of instruction, such as hook, preview, critical input, practice, review, and reflection, among others.

Some of these labels are useful for planning since they articulate how unit and lesson elements relate or group together. Other terms probably confuse communication. For example, some refer to the lesson objective, others the learning target, and still others the goal. Nevertheless, these terms generally mean the same thing when they are used in the context of lesson design.

Examining terms associated with unit and lesson planning suggests that a cohesive nomenclature is absent in education. Although avoiding confusion as a result of inconsistent labeling is impossible, educators may find it useful to anticipate a high degree of variability when it comes to educational terms.