Didactic unit

What is a didactic unit? How do you make a didactic unit?

This educational video (15 minutes) shows how to make a teaching unit. It is presented by the Faculty of Teacher Training at the University of Oviedo (Spain) and is intended for teachers explaining how to set up a didactic unit correctly, whether it is at primary, secondary, vocational or any other level.

Documento en el registro de la Propiedad Intelectual, puede ser copiado y difundido citando la autoría. Se debe citar este documento así:
Fombona, J. (2020). Unidad didáctica. Organizaciones transparentes. Universidad de Oviedo. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.30891.46889. Recuperado de http://www.orgtransparente.uniovi.es/unidad-didactica/.[fecha de consulta].


Transcription of the speech

We are going to explain the design of a didactic unit. This is a basic element in the organisation of teaching. It may be called by other names such as Unit of Work in Vocational Training, but it will always be essential that we know how to design it. Either in a written document or, as it happens in many cases, having a clear mental idea of its parts.

It should not be confused with a Topic, which is not itself a didactic unit. For example, the topic “Measurement of direct current” is just that, a description of how the intensity of electric current is quantified.

To design a Didactic Unit we will focus on the following features:

  • a contextualising introduction,
  • a list of goals to be achieved,
  • the core themes we will deal with,
  • a description of the activities to develop these contents,
  • a description of the methodology we will use,
  • the time and resources we need,
  • the place where it will be carried out,
  • and the evaluation procedures.

1.- Analysis of the context of this Unit

But first we must describe some peculiarities of the context. That is to say, we will see that the environment of this unit will condition it. For example:

  • it makes a difference whether the Unit is designed for classroom-based learning or for online non-classroom learning via the Internet,
  • or it is different to design it for an urban environment with access to many resources or for a non-networked environment.

We will think about the laws that affect it and the so-called curriculum where it is included, if we design it for a regulated educational centre, or in any case, we will look at the customs, to which we will submit ourselves. For example, in the case of a less regulated unit, such as a course of extracurricular activities.

In this initial design, we will think about the educational level from which we are starting, as it is different an approach for a very scripted children’s level, or for a master’s level where we leave many parts open to the students’ research and creation. In line with the latter, we will look at the type of student who will be working on the unit, their cultural profile, their age, the number of students we will be working with.

We must also consider the teachers who will participate and their characteristics, if there are any, since in online training they may disappear.

It is also important to foresee other agents that may participate in the success, such as the students’ families, the heads or coordinators of that post, etc.

Two more points:

  • First: these features are only mentioned if they have some influence on the development of the Unit, for example, it is no use indicating that the teaching staff is bilingual if this has no repercussion on the activity.
  • Secondly, these contextualising features are usually common to all the teaching units within a course and are therefore placed at the beginning of the teaching plan for that subject.

2.- Objectives to be achieved

Having the scenario and the actors of the Didactic Unit clear, we will focus on what we want to achieve. That is, we will define the Objectives to be achieved at the end of the Unit. This part is fundamental, it seems simple but some have taken it upon themselves to complicate everything with a series of similar terms. Thus, in Vocational Education and Training they appear as the Professional Achievements, the Terminal Capacities, etc. In education there are the Competences that we will develop in the students. For example, an example of an objective is that students know the dimensions of direct electrical current. Whereas the competence could be that the student performs measurements of electrical intensity with a multimeter instrument.

Objectives and competences coincide with the Assessment Criteria, so, following the example, the assessment criteria could be “To know the characteristics and measurement procedures of direct electrical current”. And in Spain, the so-called Learning Standards have also been described, which are a higher level of concreteness, and in the example would be: “Students carry out experiments to measure the intensity of direct electrical current, determining the number of Amperes that circulate through a basic low voltage circuit”.

I know it is a bit of a mess, but we could summarise it by making it clear what we want to achieve in the students. In the case of formal education, it should be said that these objectives and their components are usually described in the corresponding regulations.

Finally, two characteristics should be highlighted:

  • One, that they are achievable objectives for the students, i.e. that we are certain that we can usually achieve them.
  • And two, that they are easily measurable with our tests and examinations, i.e. that we can verify them with evidence and record them on a scale or rubric.

Continuing with the example, we know that our students can usually achieve the proposed current measurements. And on the other hand, it will be easily verifiable to see how they record the correct measurement results. On the other hand, they will not be able to determine the value of a pulsating current if we do not explain the concept or if they do not have the right instrument. Nor can we measure that students will respect hygiene and safety procedures in their future work.

3.- Contents of the Didactic Unit

In the following point, we determine the main topics to be covered. We will look at the initial Contents required, if this unit is a continuation of another, in which, for example, we have already dealt with: voltage generating elements, conductors, resistance, Ohm’s law… Therefore, in this case the contents are: Direct Current, Electrical Current, Ammeter…. They would be something like the key words of this Unit.

These contents can be differentiated into:

  • Theory, e.g. description of the atomic nature of electric current;
  • Practice, e.g. operation of the measuring instrument in an electrical circuit.

And then there is the part on attitudes, continuing with the example: “observance of safety rules in the presence of electric currents”. I repeat, these are thematic statements, which, on the other hand, allow us to achieve the objectives.

4.- Activities to develop each content

In relation to these contents we design the tasks that develop them. For the theory you will listen to a lecture given by the teacher and then present a summary of the main ideas. Or the task to develop this theoretical part can be the reading and summary of a chapter of a book, or a video on the Internet.

For the practical part, they will measure the electric current flowing through a circuit consisting of a battery that powers a light bulb. Or for the practical part they will measure the current using a computer software application that simulates an electrical circuit.

And finally, the attitudinal part or the development of certain attitudes, for example: “they will carry out the tasks while maintaining the rules of caution in electrical circuits”.

We will highlight two characteristics:

  • One, the theoretical, practical and attitudinal parts are very interrelated and it is difficult to separate them.
  • Two, the attitudinal component is very important and little developed in the Teaching Units, especially in Spain.

In the design of these activities it is very effective to define each one if it is:

  • An initial and introductory presentation.
  • Whether it serves to motivate students.
  • If it is an example activity.
  • If it is to be done in the classroom or at home.
  • If it is a remedial or reinforcement activity.
  • If it is a deepening or extension activity.
  • For revision.
  • To deal with diversity.
  • Or a summary or final activity.

5.- Strategies to be followed in the Unit of Instruction

In order for the Educational Unit to be more than just a series of occurrences, it must be based on some educational principle and it must follow a methodology which is usually described in the subject syllabus. And it has to follow a methodology that is usually described in the syllabus of the subject. What is methodology? It is the set of guidelines that will mark the activities described above. Thus, we will choose one or two guidelines, for example:

  • The master class, traditionally used in the transmission of information by a lecturer.
  • Meaningful learning, which is structured, gradually moving up the knowledge ladder.
  • The performance of tasks that allow the discovery of content, problem solving.
  • Individual or group work.
  • Or a methodology based on attitudes, affection, motivation.
  • Or the use of new technologies, Internet videos.
  • Or integrating these tasks within a more global and interdisciplinary project, etc.

6.- Didactic Unit Development Times

The Didactic Unit requires a design of the time it will take us to develop it. We can leave the times more open in order to achieve the objectives, or, what is more normal, we can set these times in a very precise manner, which is what happens in regulated education, which is regulated by the corresponding legislation. Thus, it is normal for a Didactic Unit to take up, for example, 10 hours, or 10 sessions of one hour each. If we want to refine it further, we can set a specific time for each activity or task.

7.- Materials used in this Teaching Unit

We need to make a forecast of resources for this Unit. On the one hand, for our teaching activity, noting down our needs, for example, for video projection equipment if it is not usually available in the classroom, or a specific textbook for the teaching staff… And, on the other hand, we will specify the specific needs of the pupils, either provided by the school or by the students. For example, they may need documentation that they will obtain from a certain link on the Internet or another tool provided by the school. And detail the extent to which these are compulsory or only recommended materials, bibliography or resources.

8.- Spaces used in this Didactic Unit

Together with time there is space, so we will delimit the places we need. Thus, we will indicate where each activity takes place:

  • Either in the usual classroom.
  • Or in another specific space such as a laboratory.
  • Or detailing micro-spaces within the classroom itself, such as a reading corner.
  • Or other less usual spaces such as the assembly hall, the library, the library, the library, etc.

I think it is interesting to indicate the spaces needed to do homework at home. And of course, virtual spaces, internet campuses and other platforms.

9.- Evaluation

We come to evaluation. Here we will first differentiate the assessment criteria, i.e. what we are going to ask the students, and we have already seen that they must be directly related to the objectives set, this is very important. In the example of current measurement, one criterion would be the appropriate use of the measuring instrument… And if we make it even more specific, we would say that the students carry out direct current measurements, placing the measuring instrument in a basic circuit in the correct position and in the appropriate range for the values to be measured… this would be a Learning Standard in Spain. In addition, we can detail the evaluation technique, whether it will be numerical by giving a grade from 0 to 10, or descriptive by narrating the achievements or shortcomings of the students…

It is important to highlight the instruments used, whether they are observation instruments where the teacher looks at what the students do, or if we ask them about something specific in a test.

We will indicate when we will assess, whether it is a continuous assessment, at the end or at what point, and for how long.

We will think about how we will mark, i.e. how much each question is worth.

And finally, whether we as teachers will have some kind of feedback on all our activity.

Two final points:

  • One, all these features are usually described in the relevant legislation.
  • Two, all of them should be public and made known to all.

With all these ideas we can compose a Didactic Unit. But let’s not forget a fundamental characteristic and that is that all these parts, objectives, contents, tasks, methodology, evaluation… must be coherent with each other, and coherent with the objectives set.

I hope you find this video useful. Thank you very much.

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