Make Units More Inspiring with Vision Boards



Listen to the interview with Amanda Cardenas and Marie Morris:

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There’s a lot of talk in education about making learning visible for students. But what about for teachers? Do we not also crave visual organization? Aesthetically visually pleasing spaces? Sure, teachers have likely become teachers through their ferocious ability to adapt to many different learning styles, but we too benefit from harnessing the power of the visual.

Enter: the unit vision board.

You’ve been tasked with creating a curriculum map for a future unit. It’s a Google Doc with boxes and bullet points and a dizzying amount of text. Let’s hit the brakes for a moment and step back: how about doing a vision board for this task instead?

WHY A VISION BOARD?

Vision boards gained their popularity within the realm of “life hacks” and new year goal setting, but once I applied this practice to my teaching life, I was delighted by the results. A vision board is about building a dream: What would a dream scenario for this unit look like? A unit vision board is a lesson planning tool that allows teachers to imagine their units as an experience and think through what it would feel like to be part of that experience.

Take The Great Gatsby for example:

Vision board for The Great Gatsby by Amanda Cardenas. Click image for larger view. See this folder for more examples.

This vision board aims to capture all of the things I would want to address if there were no time or other restrictions on my curriculum: 

  • First and foremost, it features the unit essential question. EQs drive inquiry throughout the unit and are the true spine of what holds me anchored to my goals and students to their investigation of the question at hand. 
  • I wanted my unit to hit some of the obvious conversations around dreams and money with the Ted Talk Does Money Make You Mean? 
  • I was also hoping to take this unit as a brief moment in time to touch on surrealism (“Starry Night” came to mind as VanGogh’s work paved the way for the surrealists to come, not to mention the use of color and nighttime setting that has echoes of Gatsby). 
  • Certainly Gatsby’s glamorous life and the partying reputation of the decade was on my list, but so was the harsh reality of the consequences that come from forgetting about reality for too long. The poem Invictus was swirling around in my mind as I heard the final two lines echo:  “I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul.”  I thought about how Gatsby sees the world, consumed by his desire to control the future by repeating the past.  
  • And of course, the cool blue tones and bright golden yellow colors reflect so much of that contrast that I hope to look at during the unit: day and night, dark and light, dreams and reality. 
  • Finally, at the heart of all this, was reckoning with the voices of the decade that were marginalized and ignored. Between the Old Money of generational wealth and the New Money of Hollywood celebrity, the novel fails to acknowledge the great artistic accomplishments of the Harlem Renaissance, the systems of oppression that sustained the wealth of the main characters. That was something the unit needed at several critical moments.

Could I have accomplished this on our department issued spreadsheet? 

Sure.  But a spreadsheet with bullets and columns is a little less…alive.

Vision board for To Kill a Mockingbird by Amanda Cardenas. Click image for a larger view. See this folder for more examples.

WHAT TO INCLUDE

A vision board is different from a curriculum map in that the elements included don’t need to be limited in any way. A unit vision board should be a big picture collage of all the things you hope to read, address, reference, and experience together. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

Experience

  • Consider the “mood” part of this experience as you choose fonts, colors, and a background image – these should be intentional as you are thinking about the unit as an experience for students

Content

  • Book covers
  • Images/photographs
  • Screenshots of ideas from Instagram
  • Podcast episodes
  • Song lyrics / titles
  • YouTube videos (TedTalks, ambient sound/music, nonfiction connections etc.)
  • Poems

Structural Components

  • Unit Essential Question
  • Prompts for summative assessment
  • Themes to trace
  • Anchor quotes
Rhetoric & argument unit vision board by Marie Morris. Click image for a larger view. See this folder for more examples.

ASSEMBLING YOUR UNIT VISION BOARD

My go-to tool for creating a vision board is Google Slides. I set my page size to 11 X 8.5 (so I can print it out later!), add a background image, and just start layering! Use Insert >> word art for easily movable pieces, Insert >> image or video for layering images and YouTube videos into your collage.

Canva is also a wonderful tool to do almost the exact same things listed above. Whichever tool is more in your comfort zone is the best place to start. 

HOW TO USE THE BOARD

Use your vision board as a rough draft, a starting place—something that makes building the required spreadsheet a bit easier and more meaningful. Use your vision board on display in your classroom to remind you about what you care about most deeply in this unit. You can also share your vision board with students and have them make predictions about the unit based on what they see. 

No matter how you use it or where it ends up, I hope the process in creating a vision board inspires you to tackle your unit in a new way and with a renewed passion for why this unit exists in the curriculum in the first place. 


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