Sunday, February 23, 2014

Creating Lesson Plans

Even if you had plenty of practice writing lessons during your teacher training, it's hard to be prepared for the avalanche of lesson planning you'll have to do once your first year of teaching begins.

To rev up the learning curve, here are eight questions to "think aloud" as you prepare lessons. The answers will help you create high-quality, on-target plans.

At the beginning of the year, you'll probably refer to the questions frequently, but after several months of planning, you'll be a whiz. The process will become automatic!

Eight Questions to "Think Aloud" as You Prepare Lessons
  1. Students: What are the academic, social, physical, personal, and emotional needs of my students?
  2. Strategies: Which teaching strategies will best facilitate my students' learning?
  3. Grouping: Should I group heterogeneously or homogeneously? What size should my groups be?
  4. Timing: When is the best time to do this lesson? Are there prerequisites my students should have mastered?
  5. Materials: What materials and human resources do I need for the lesson to be successful?
  6. Success: Was the lesson successful? Were my students interested? Did my students learn? What didn't work? What will I do differently next time?
  7. Sequence: What can I do next to build upon this lesson? How can I make it flow?
  8. Rationale: What is the reason for doing this? What objectives will be accomplished?
The Secrets of Daily Lesson Planning
Your daily lesson plans should detail the specific activities and content you will teach during a particular week. They usually include:
  • lesson objectives
  • procedures for delivering instruction
  • methods of assessing your students
  • student groupings
  • materials needed to carry out the lesson plan
As with all planning, the format of lesson plans will vary from school to school. Many school districts provide lesson-plan books, while others allow teachers to develop their own format. Regardless of the format, here are the key components of successful lesson planning:
  • Your lessons should be readable and detailed enough that a substitute teacher could teach from them in an emergency.
  • Consider making a copy or two of each week's plan. I used to take one copy home and place others at key areas in my classroom so I could leave my actual lesson-plan book on my desk at all times, available for the principal. This also allowed me to work at home on preparing materials for upcoming lessons and on planning for the following week without fear of misplacing my lesson book!
  • Try scripting your lessons. It was time-consuming, but in my first few years of teaching, it helped me be better organized and more confident in front of my students.
  • As a general rule, begin working on plans for the next week no later than Thursday. By then you will have an idea of which lessons weren't completed, the objectives that need to be reinforced, and which upcoming school-wide activities need to be integrated into your plan. If you leave the planning until Friday after school, it may not get done!
  • Make a master copy or template of the planning pages you use, and write or type those activities that stay the same each week and the times they occur. Make several copies of the new page to replace the blank lesson-plan pages, but don't copy them too far in advance, in case you change your weekly schedule. Then just fill in the blanks on the copies with specifics for the week.
  • Balance grouping strategies and activities in each learning style or multiple intelligence type so you are meeting the needs of all your students.
  • Check with your principal for guidelines on when he or she will want to look at your lesson plans. Some principals make a point of viewing new teachers' lesson plans on a weekly basis so they can provide on-the-spot assistance throughout the school year.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Teacher Leadership

Guest posy by Rick Hess

Teacher leadership is the only thing that's going to save the education system. Period. While there are great folks who are putting their heart and soul into education reform, they don't have all the answers and they aren't going to be successful if teachers aren't co-collaborators. I can see the teacher mindset evolving as we begin to open the classroom door and invite others in, but we need new norms in truly operationalizing teacher leadership. Building systems that allow teachers the time to lead, not as an additional job add-on to be done outside of duty hours, is a major first step. Too many great teachers leave the classroom because, while they love their students, they don't feel valued for the ENTIRE skill set they bring to the table. NNSTOY has a great report, "Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Trajectories," that you can read for more details.

The balance beam of education is moving from primarily knowledge acquisition to a greater emphasis on the skills and dispositions needed for both students and adults to utilize information. This will necessitate a shift in what it means to be a teacher. Students--and adults--now have information at their fingertips on the latest tech gadget. What they need are the skills to access the information (reading, determining valid sources, discernment) and the dispositions (collegiality, creativity, tenacity) to apply their knowledge and skills in the real world. Once we get past this testing craziness--and I believe we will--we will move into an area of more authentic assessment embedded in project based learning (at the upper grades; I see primary grades still focused on acquisition) and delivered through a collaborative team approach. The work we are doing on the Re-Imagining Education Project with the Convergence Center for Policy Studies has helped me see this perspective.

Technology has enhanced my teaching but I never worry it will replace me. I saw my role as a teacher begin to transform when every student in my classroom had a computer. Technology was utilized as an effective learning and diagnostic tool while still providing ample time for activities based in student interaction and nurturing interpersonal skills. I was able to utilize real time assessment information to determine where students were struggling and immediately intervene. I was able to challenge students who mastered material easily and needed the bar set higher. Technology allowed me to teach deeper and faster so that I could more effectively address individual student needs. But technology still can't do all of this while also wiping the tears of a student in the midst of a personal crisis. Education is, and will remain, a profession dependent on increasingly skilled practitioners. As Kid President might say, "It's about blended learning people!"

Success isn't achieved by "cookie cutter" teaching. This should not be an "AHA!" statement to anyone, but unfortunately I know it is when I heard a friend from the East Coast share, "My principal informed us that when he walks from one classroom to the next, he should hear the second teacher finishing the first teacher's sentence." Craziness! Our 4th graders at Miller Park Elementary have hit it out of the park on state writing year after year, even though my colleagues and I taught quite differently. We were in sync on the basics and we worked closely to share our learning, but our principal gave us tremendous latitude to do what we knew as professionals worked best. Use the same kind of gradual release model for teachers that we use for students: teachers who successfully advance student learning--their knowledge, skills, and dispositions--are given greater latitude. Those who are struggling--which could be for a myriad of reasons--would be offered additional and perhaps more structured support. But keep the cookie cutter in the kitchen!

The unions have to seize the opportunity present in advancing a student-centered agenda based on enhancing professional practice. Transforming American education will not be done by individuals; it will be successfully done by those who are willing to work in concert with others in achieving a common vision. When we look at our international colleagues who are being lauded for their student success, they have strong teacher unions as partners in reform, as well as time to work together in collaborative practice models--see NNSTOY's white paper, Reimagining Teaching. Statehouses can legislate against collective bargaining, but they can't legislate against the union's role in developing better teachers. This doesn't mean the union must abandon advocating for compensation and other traditional union roles; it does mean looking at them through a student-centered lens. I have learned the hard way that when you push against the system, the system pushes back. If it weren't for my union protecting me, I wouldn't still be teaching. But unions have to go beyond protecting to advocating for a great profession. First we choose our profession, then we choose to join a union who helps us become better professionals!