Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

How do you plan?

What does lesson planning look like for you? I went through a long period at school where I tried to do it in “fits and starts” within my school day.  It looked like this:
  • Enter benchmarks (by code name, not actually the words) into the template, before school, while eating breakfast.
  • Jot down page numbers from workbook while 2nd period is doing their bellwork.
  • Mention to colleagues via email where you are with regards to pacing. (“I’m on ___”. “Oh! I’ll be there next week!” “Done. Planned!”)
  • Look at resources to see what copies need to be made during lunch.
  • Go to copier during lunch and wait in line until copier breaks.
  • Figure out if there is an accompanying pre-made assessment while 4th period is working in groups.
  • Touch base with same-course colleague between class and say “I’ll plan Wednesday and you do Thursday”
  • Look at calendar and see if you can fit it all in in the pacing while 6th period is writing the answers to their assignment.
  • Afterschool, try to make copies (because the copier was broken during lunch).
  • At home (after favorite TV watching) make powerpoint to put assignments, directions, images together.

That obviously led to disjointed lesson plans -- and unprepared classes.

So then, I started blocking out my Sunday nights or Sunday afternoons, sitting on my couch and planning lessons.

But then, I ...  I lost my Sunday afternoons or Sunday nights! That was no fun and made me cranky!

After being around for a while, I’d like to offer my favorite tips for lesson planning to make it easier on you, less disjointed, hopefully give you your whole weekend, AND make the plans better...

  1. Plan WITH a colleague, if at all possible. And, no, I don’t mean “divide and conquer” (like, “I’ll make the assessment and you make the power point, talk to ya tomorrow” although that has some merit). No, I mean sit down together and look at benchmarks and curriculum guide and pacing guides together. Two brains are better than one and common planning with a colleague makes your life easier and your plans better.
  2. Close the door.  And cover your window, if necessary. Take the classroom phone off the hook and power off your own cell phone. Or go somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, like an unoccupied office that no one knows you are in. But find a bigger chunk of time in a less-likely-to-be-disturbed spot so you aren’t doing it piecemeal style. I promise you will make much better plans if you do them in bigger, undisturbed chunks of time.
  3. Bust out your benchmarks. And Curriculum Guides and Pacing Guides. And resources. Have it all out and ready to go so you’re not stopping to hunt things down mid-planning session. And then, uh, actually use them.
  4. Plan with the end in mind. What do you want your kids to know and do as a result of this lesson? And don’t say “know more about topic X”. Be specific! And be able to measure it in some way. Think “I want the kids to know the difference between y and z.”. And then ask them to tell you the difference between y and z before they leave class that day.
  5. Contingency plans: What will you do if the kids don’t get it? (Because, sometimes, they don’t. And complaining or venting don’t count as a contingency plan). But really... If you’re teaching about Westward Expansion, what kinds of mistakes will the kids make? What misconceptions will they have? Which part of the lesson are they most likely to mess up and how can you plan it so a) they don’t mess it up and b) you’re prepared to fix it when they mess it up? I think of this as an “If---Then” statement: “If the kids don’t understand ‘expansion’ then I will teach it like this....”
*I know we usually do a lot of this “on the fly”. But wouldn’t it be easier, more effective, less stressful, and more powerful if you were ready for these moments? Those of you new to teaching are often surprised by where the gaps or mistakes are. But those of you who are veterans, you usually have a pretty good handle on these areas.
5. Think of your ACTUAL kids. Don’t plan your lessons for “pie in the sky” kids that you don’t have.  Don’t plan your lessons for the kids you think you SHOULD have. Plan for YOUR actual kids. How are you going to plan for the kid who has vision trouble and needs to sit in the front? How are you going to plan for the kid who can’t sit still for more than ten minutes? How are you going to plan for the kid who finishes everything ten minutes before the everyone else? How are you going to plan for the kids in the back who struggle with motivation? How are you going to plan for your immigrant student who struggles with English? If you’re prepared for these things, you will be less likely to be caught by a surprise scenario. I used to keep a sticky note in my plans that said “Stefan” and “Keisha” to remind me that I needed to plan with those two kids in mind.
6. Use your scale. The whole point of Learning Goals and Learning Targets is to help us plan for how to get our kids from Point A to Point B and how to know if they’re on the right path. So USE THOSE SCALES. Focus on your Level 3 (benchmark) plan what steps YOUR kids need to get there. Don’t decide they can’t ever get there because Level 3 “looks hard”. Plan the steps.  If I want them to “Examine the causes, course, and consequences of Westward Expansion” then try
Step 1: Make sure they know what Westward Expansion is.
Step 2: How will I help them examine the causes? The Course? The Consequences? (these will be activities)
Step 3: How will I help them put it all together?
Step 4: How will I find out which kids learned it -- and where the others didn’t learn it?
6. Get your stuff. Make the copies. Find the handouts. Prep your board. Update a power point. Whatever legwork you need to do, do it. PS -- You probably don’t need to do this all during one of those bigger chunks of time. Go ahead and scatter this one into whatever crazy teacher-time you can carve out including lunch, before school, during passing time, whatever. Hey, I don’t judge how teachers cram 18 hour days into much fewer hours. Do what  you gotta do.
7. Teach your lesson(s). You know how to do this. Enough said.

8. Reflect. How did it go? Did they learn what they needed to learn? Which kids did? Which kids struggled? Which kids missed the mark? Which parts went well? Which parts didn’t? Which parts were worth the time to prepare? Which parts weren’t? Evaluate it and find a way to make a note so you don’t have to jump over the same barriers next time you teach this.

Do you do this every day? Heck no! You do this as YOU do this. Some people will hole up in a storage room once a week and bang out a week’s worth of lessons. Some people will meet with their colleagues every other week and talk through the plans together for the month. Some people can only give this twenty minutes before school on alternate Tuesdays plus first lunch on B-days.  

I know. Being a teacher is a crazy time-crunch of a job. I wish I could give you more hours.

And yes, lesson plans take time. And yes, every school seems to have a different format, style, schedule for lesson planning. But behind all that are good plans that lead to successful lessons and better and more knowledgeable kids -- who hopefully become both good citizens and decent on tests.

Which parts of this do you do? Which parts do you fly through -- and which parts take more time? Which parts of lesson planning do you like? And which parts make you nuts? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me

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