When I go to observe teachers, I ask them to send me a detailed lesson plan before my visit. Though teachers generally aren’t excited by this request, I believe that thinking deeply about each step of a lesson prepares teachers for success. I don’t just ask teachers to write up lesson plans because I want to know what will happen in their lessons; I ask them to write lesson plans because they learn through writing.
Depending on the needs of the teachers I work with, I ask them to focus on different aspects of lesson planning. If a teacher is working on time management, I work with him to create a lesson plan focused on maximizing instructional time. Or if a teacher is struggling with adjusting lessons to meet the needs of her students, I work with her to come up with a “Plan B.”
Here are five ways to learn through planning:
1. Start with goals & standards
With so many important things to teach, sometimes it can be hard to focus. Backwards planning is often used during long-term planning, but it can be a great tool for single lessons too. Think about what you want students to achieve by the end of the lesson, then work backwards to plan the teaching and learning that needs to happen in order for students to meet that goal.
When we film teachers for Teaching Channel, we ask them to write lesson plans before we come. Looking at the lesson plan for this video, (available for download in the “Supporting Materials” section located to the bottom right of the video player) we can see how middle school math coach Audra McPhillips thought deeply about the Common Core math content and practice standards that she would teach in this lesson. When getting to know the CCSS, consider picking one or two standards to base your lesson upon. Think about the level of mastery you hope students will have by the end of the lesson and plan backwards.
It can be helpful to write down exactly what you plan to say when teaching a lesson. You won’t end up actually reading your script, but the act of writing allows teachers to figure out the best way of explaining information. This can be an especially effective strategy when teaching difficult content; sometimes we don’t know what’s going to be confusing until we start trying to explain it.
3. Anticipating challenges
For new teachers, it can be hard to anticipate where a lesson might go wrong. With experience, teachers start to internalize potential challenges and plan for them in advance. No matter what your experience level, it’s helpful to think about both potential challenges to student understanding and to behavior.
To address behavior challenges, I encourage teachers to write both a content and a management plan. In the management plan, teachers think about what they will do if management challenges arise. Teachers consider questions like, “If a student repeatedly talks over me, what will I do?” In addition to thinking about potential behavioral challenges, management plans can include thinking about the flow of materials and how students will move around the room.
Thinking about potential misunderstandings before teaching is an important strategy for meeting the needs of all students. In the lesson plan that Becky Pittard wrote for the lesson she taught in this video, she created an amazing chart that planned the flow of instruction, possible student responses at different points in the lesson, and the key focus for her instruction. Check it out in the downloadable lesson plan found in the “Supporting Materials” section to the bottom right of the video.
4. Plan out instructional time (and check it)
Timing is challenging. When planning a lesson, think about how much time each part of the lesson will take. Part of fine-tuning this process is estimating how much time tasks will take and then checking your estimations. I’ve put my time estimations on a sticky note (e.g., “mini-lesson: 5 minutes, independent writing: 30 minutes, reflection: 5 minutes”) and jotted down actual times next to my plan. Having my planned times next to me helped to keep me on track, while keeping track of actual times helped me to be flexible while monitoring instructional time.
5. Focus on particular students
Each class and student is different, so lessons you have taught before may not have the same effect as they had in the past. Sometimes it’s helpful to plan lessons with particular students in mind. For example, I once had a student who struggled with writing. Not only was it hard for him to write more than a couple sentences at a time, he was quickly becoming completely disengaged with writing. I knew he loved comic books, so I decided to plan a lesson on creating comic strips. The short form of the comic strips allowed him to have a successful and engaging writing experience. Planning lessons targeted at specific students lets you think deeply about your students’ strengths and challenges while finding ways to effectively meet your students’ needs.
As we become experienced teachers, our plans become internalized and we no longer need to write as many detailed plans. But even experienced teachers can benefit from slowing down and writing detailed lesson plans. In the coming year, Teaching Channel is committed to including more teacher lesson plans with our videos. We hope this will help us to not only share great teaching ideas, but also learn from each other’s planning.