A new way to plan: Perry Hall High teachers focus units on students, their progress

A new way to plan: Perry Hall High teachers focus units on students, their progress

Shaine Henry, a science teacher at Perry Hall High School, still remembers the way he used to plan units for his chemistry classes.

“I would look at the benchmark assessment for a unit and plan instructional activities that would cover the information assessed on the exam,” he said. “For each class, I would post an objective in the form of ‘Students will be able to ______ in order to ______.’ I would also use exit tickets at the end of a period to see what students learned, record the score as a grade in the gradebook, and move on to the next lesson.”

But, after almost two decades of following the same approach, Henry says he’s now trying a different strategy. With help from Baltimore County Public Schools’ new grading and reporting procedures, Henry is starting to create units that focus more on his students and the progress they’re making in class.

“I’m now crafting student-friendly ‘I can’ statements that help students self-monitor and self-assess their progress toward mastering the standards,” he said. “I share these ‘I can’ statements with my students through a plan we’re always going back to during the unit.”

Working recently to plan a unit on chemical bonding with Maggie Cummins, Henry said they followed a five-step process. Cummins is the school’s instructional coach, known as the S.T.A.T. (Student and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) teacher. The pair modeled tips shared regularly by Chief Academic Officer Verletta White to support teachers throughout the system.

First, they looked at the BCPS learning standards for chemistry and wrote “I can” statements based on what his students needed to know and be able to do. Then, they grouped the statements into topics to form the unit plan. To decide when learning checks and cumulative assessments should take place, Henry said he and Cummins prioritized the “I can” statements in a list, starting with the most important goals. For the periods between those checks and assessments, they included other activities, such as small-group discussions and individual exercises, that would let students choose how they learn. To finish their planning process, Henry said he and Cummins developed lessons for each day.

“We focused on creating more customized and learner-centered instruction,” he said. “We gave students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning and ensured one assignment doesn’t make or break a student’s grade.”

While Henry and Cummins have used the new unit-planning approach to prepare lessons on covalent and ionic bonding, transition metals, and more, they aren’t the only ones at Perry Hall High trying it out. Terri Cohee, the school’s science department chair, is also using it for the biology professional learning community (PLC) she’s working with.

A plan for all subjects

Looking to prepare for the school year’s first unit, biochemistry, Cohee and the PLC began by reviewing the BCPS learning standards for biology. Then, following steps similar to the ones Henry and Cummins took, the PLC planned learning checks, cumulative exams, and daily lessons for the unit.

“We aimed for a variety of assessments to allow students to demonstrate their learning in different ways,” Cohee said. “For example, our performance-based assessment for the macromolecules unit asked students to design a meal plan for Michael Phelps using their knowledge of macromolecules and their functions and the recommended nutritional guidelines from”

While exercises like that one are engaging students in original and creative ways, Cohee says there’s another important advantage of this new planning strategy.

“This new approach leaves far fewer students behind than before,” she said. “The benefits are for students who learn at difference paces than their peers and for students who can demonstrate their learning in different ways than the traditional selected-response assessment.”

But, as Henry notes, the benefits extend to other students, too.

“All content is aligned with the standards in both content and rigor,” he said. “The work I assign is meaningful and directly supports student achievement on the benchmark.”

As Cohee and Henry look forward to using the new unit-planning approach more in the future, they know other BCPS teachers are thinking ahead, too. For them, Cohee and Henry offer some advice.

“Take advantage of professional development time to work with your colleagues,” Cohee said. “Also look for ways to customize instruction.”

Henry added: “Be patient with yourself and your students. It’s OK to make adjustments based on your students’ needs. Since students learn at different paces and in different ways, the changes you make are benefitting them.”

To learn more about the new grading and reporting procedures, visit

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