While planning with literacy coach Elizabeth Lacy we got to talking about the development of teachers across time. She supports both new and experienced teachers and we noticed that there is often a shift from novice teachers who plan with themselves in mind (Did I follow the template my school has designed? Do I have an objective? Do I have all of my materials together? Do I even know what I’m going to say?!?) to more experienced teachers shifting to plan with students in mind (Will they be engaged? Does this develop their skills more?).
To this end we thought about questions teachers can ask themselves while planning lessons that aides in that transition from planning for myself to really planning for students. We came to these three questions (there are probably others, or better ways to word these. I’d love to hear what questions you have on your own personal “am I meetings their needs” list).
1. Will this lesson lead to a large volume of work that is rigorous for the students?
Sometimes lessons are well articulated, involve multiple demonstrations and steps, sometimes even a lot of materials… but then fall a bit flat when students return to their independent practice only to spend 2 minutes on the work of the lesson and say “I’m done.” When planning ask yourself will this lesson lead to a lot of practice? Shift talking about one way to write a lead to instead suggesting ways of trying out multiple experiments.
Within that, will this lesson be rigorous for the students in front of you? Meaning, does it push their skills appropriately, not so easy that they zip through the work quickly and not so hard that they get very little done from misunderstanding.
2. Is this a strategy that students can come back to/that will live beyond today?
This next one feels especially important. Sometimes lessons seem to fit only the book we are teaching from or the piece of writing we are demonstrating. Ask instead if the lesson you are teaching is something students will be able to use over and over again beyond this moment. Our shared aim as educators is to develop independent thinkers, writers, readers, scientists, mathematicians, artists… Reexamine your lesson and revise so that it feels larger than just today. For instance, instead of having students fill out a graphic organize that compares only these two particular books (with prompts directed to those books), teach students ways of brainstorming comparisons that they could apply to any comparative essay or reading.
3. How does this lesson connect to the end goal/standards/essential questions of the unit?
Lastly, this question often can seem like the throw-away at the end of lesson planning: “Okay, lesson planning done. Oh wait, I forgot to mention the standards… mmmmm, eenie, meenie…” Instead, teachers that plan with students in mind do not just find a standard that matches their lesson just out of compliance, instead they see standards as connected to end products or end learning. Consider how this lesson is moving students towards a larger understanding, be critical and revise as needed.
We’re looking forward to using these planning questions for ourselves and with teachers in the future. What are your own questions that support you in planning with students in mind?
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