Typhani Harris | March 2015
Coach’s Corner: The Art of Lesson Planning
A couple weeks ago, I posted my first Coach’s Corner article addressing some of the prevalent issues my new teachers face. I received a wonderful comment on the post from Brad Foust. He commented, “Surprisingly, far too many teachers, including veteran teachers, simply don’t write lesson plans anymore. They either use the teacher’s edition plans that come with whatever book they’re using, or use worksheets in the place of self-constructed lesson plans. When I was a classroom teacher, I was required to submit weekly lesson plans to my principal. Were they closely examined? Probably not, but at least I was held accountable”.
This as such a wonderful observation, so I spent the last couple weeks really assessing the use of lesson plans and the art of lesson planning. His comment was spot on. Although my school currently has us post our lesson plans or lesson planning for our administrators, the more I look into this process the more I realize it is simply lip service. Lessons are posted haphazardly, with little connection to the full lesson, unit, or trajectory of curriculum. Often, the lessons have been written quickly, sometimes a mere day or two before. Resulting in little reference to the lesson plan throughout the class. Technology has slightly inhibited this process, as some teachers do not looking at notes or plans. They merely paste everything on a power point, and simply scroll through it as the class progresses. I too have occasionally fallen into this lackadaisical posting of lessons just so it’s done.
Behind The Art of Lesson Planning
I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the art of lesson planning. One of the strongest strategies for lesson planning is through the Understanding by Design. The backward lesson planning method introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Beginning with the end in mind allows for a comprehensive trajectory of curriculum and individual lessons. Everything has a purpose with no room for tedious or arbitrary assignments. This is far from a new concept, there’s much written about backward design with multiple templates and samples swirling the internet. However, I thought this would be a good time to review some of these structures as most of us enter the final quarter of the current school year.
There are multiple lesson plan templates utilized, but they all have roughly the same format. Beginning with an introductory activity, move into the instruction, then guided practice, independent practice, and an exit slip with a practice assignment for homework. Here’s the arts of lesson planning.
Some call this an anticipatory set, a sponge, or a do now. The purpose of this activity should be an opportunity for students to revisit what they learned the day prior. Allowing the teacher to check for understanding, and beginning the process of introducing the days lesson. This activity should be tangible, something that students can do in order to demonstrate knowledge. Also, providing a chance for teachers to see if any reteaching is necessary before moving on. So, something like take out your book or your homework doesn’t really fit in this category. This activity requires purpose, not just busy work to get the kids in and quiet.
Instruction should be an engaging introduction of new information. If in a lecture setting, ensure that students are actively learning by following strategies such as 10-2-2 (see my article Cutting the Cord), and focused note taking (see my article Focused Note-taking). The introduction of new information should have a visible connection to your final expectations for students. Students should be able to make the connection as well. They want to know what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how it is going to be used in the future. If they are able to invest in the purpose of their learning then they are more apt to take it seriously. If they can’t identify the purpose and you don’t share it with them, they will struggle with taking ownership of the new knowledge.
This time gives students the opportunity to practice their new knowledge with assistance. This can be done in groups, partners, or individually but the purpose is to practice in a nonthreatening way where they are able to ask questions and get help. Giving students the opportunity to get up and move around for their guided practice is effective as they have already remained stagnant for teacher input, and a static body creates a static mind, so having them work on chart paper around the room, or the white board will give them the opportunity to stand up and move around as well as articulate their learning, discuss it, and practice it. This guided practice time will also allow the teacher to see where differentiation needs to take place. However, it is imperative to design how differentiation will take place. What will you use if students are struggling or students are mastering the concept and becoming bored?
This could be seen as independent classwork or homework, and gives students the chance to test out their knowledge and practice what they have learned. The purpose is the see if students can complete the concept on their own, and when they get it, move on. This is where teachers can implement differentiation. Some students may need some additional scaffolding or graphic organizers, some may need additional activities that take their knowledge to the next level. But all of this must be planned and ready to go once you assess the need.
So often, I see teachers complete their lesson and then students pack up and wait by the door. Class time is already so limited, we really need to use bell-to-bell instruction. Students should have a final checking for understanding task to complete and turn in on their way out. Post-it notes make for exit slips. Give the students a prompt, question, problem, something to complete on a post it and then place on the door as they exit. Have multiple ideas ready because it is always better to have too much than too little.
If you choose to have students continue their practice at home make sure it is tangible and purposeful. If they are completing a large quantity of expectations with no purpose it will quickly become something they are copying from friends right before your class. Make it purposeful. Give them a task to complete with their notes (see my article Focused Note-taking) or create questions for the class; something that takes them to the higher levels of Bloom’s and Depth of Knowledge, not something that can be seen as busy work, the kids don’t want to do it and we don’t want to grade it.
It is so important to take the time to completely design lessons and to fully write out lessons. Don’t rely on a power point, have lessons visible and add notations that provide specific things we want to remember to say or do, as well as questions in various levels of Bloom’s or Depth of Knowledge in order to check for understanding. It is also good practice to include a few additional activities in case students finish early, which will maintain bell-to-bell instruction.
However, before you complete all this you must make a road map to where you are going. Begin with the standards to be assessed, and the way they will be assessed. If it is a project or written assessment be sure the rubric is created first. If it is a paper pencil exam, write the exam first. Then working through backwards design establish what the students must be able to demonstrate each month, each week, and then draft the lesson plans for each day. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how do you know when you get there?
Next Week: Strategy Sidebar
Since we have 5 Mondays in March, I will use next week as a strategy sidebar, a couple of quick tricks and tips for the classroom.