In the past few years I have had the opportunity to work with a few young teachers in the classroom setting. After observing their lessons, I always felt confused and wondered why I felt that way. The lessons always contained interesting activities with student engagement, but certain elements did not seem to be connected to a bigger picture. After numerous discussions with the teachers involved, and further lengthy discussions with various colleagues, we came to some conclusions about teaching and planning in today’s technological world.
Years ago, teachers used school district curriculum guides in focusing their teaching. Lessons were planned using school district objectives. Planning meant that a lesson was geared to meet the needs of the teacher’s class. There was a thought process and steps involved in planning a lesson, or lessons, around an objective. Teachers had to create their own lessons basically from “scratch” using materials available to them.
Today, teachers use state/Common Core standards when planning. With the help of the Internet it has become quite easy to find excellent lessons which are tailor-made for an objective. A plethora of fine ideas and lessons can also be found on Pinterest and “pinned” to a teacher’s personal board. This can be an ingenious and creative way to collect some great ideas for making lessons fun and interesting.
However, by just finding an activity on the Internet and plugging it into a standard, many important parts of the planning process are lost. Also, actual planning of a lesson involves MANY steps, not just finding an activity and teaching, or explaining, it to a class. It is also important to note that the lesson that exists on the Internet was planned for a class that could be entirely different from the class being taught. This needs to be considered when planning this particular lesson for a class.
After discussions with colleagues, we’ve come up with some important points to remember when planning a lesson, or lessons, when teaching a standard:
- Has the skill or concept been identified and broken down into its separate components? After the skill/standard to be taught has been identified it should be broken down into the steps to be taught. The simplest component should be taught first, gradually building to the most difficult. A review of basics from the previous lesson and a summary at the end also need to be considered.
- Does the teacher fully understand and know the content? Understanding the content of a lesson is one of the basics of teaching. Along with knowledge of content, knowing the best way to teach that content in order that the students understand it is equally as important.
- Are there any concepts/vocabulary that must be taught first? Another vital part of planning also includes studying the lesson for any concepts or vocabulary which may have to be taught BEFORE teaching the actual lesson. This is especially important in all areas, including Math. Consideration needs to be given to students whose first language is not English, as well as students who have a learning disability.
- How will the questioning guide the understanding of this skill? Actual thought should be put into the types of questions asked, especially for the students who may have difficulty understanding a concept. There should also be a plan in place to call on ALL students equally and not just higher achieving students.
- How will the students be engaged in this lesson? If groups are involved, what are the guidelines? What are the group activities? Are there guidelines for participation in order that everyone is involved, or will the students be passive observers?
- Are there materials that need to be prepared in advance? Many times the copying machine is the busiest place in the morning, and it often doesn’t work. Also, the time before school is the time when colleagues love to chat. Leaving preparation until the morning of the lesson is not always the best idea.
- How will the instruction be differentiated for ALL students? How are the needs of the students with learning problems met, as well as those of the higher achieving students?
- When will Review and Summarizing occur in the lesson? How will it be done?
- How does this lesson connect to the next lesson? It is important that it connects to something greater in order that it is not just an activity done for a class.
- Will there be any sort of assessment to determine if the students understand what has been taught? Will it be formal or informal? If informal, what will be the guidelines for understanding?
The Internet is a wonderful tool for teachers, but it is just that….a tool. There are an infinite number of excellent ideas that all teachers can utilize when teaching students. However, it is important to remember that as educators, we need to customize these lessons for our current class. We are the “experts” in the planning and teaching process for our students.
A Note from the School Counselor:
Sadly I've heard some school counselors say, "I just wing-it" when referring to counseling core curriculum in the classroom. Some have explained that they just grab something and go. Really -- I don't think I would even know how to do that! Doing a lesson that is not well thought-out, in my opinion, is just as bad as not doing the lesson in the first place. I feel it is a waste of the students' time, a waste of the teacher's time, and a waste of your time if you are doing a lesson that was created without putting any real thought to it.
As I always tell my graduate students, when you are teaching a core curriculum lesson, you are on stage and being watched closely. A classroom lesson is the your strongest public relations method. The teacher is watching closely to see how you manage his/her classroom and I truly believe that these "teacher" observations are what builds the trust between a school counselor and a teacher. They are looking for content, activities that meet the needs of all kids, smooth transitions, explanations, and directions, higher order questioning, and interesting materials that, etc. They are watching to see how students are interacting with the school counselor and the lesson content. If you "wing-it" it will show...it will make you look unprofessional, it will make you look like the skill/concept isn't important, and it will make you look like the students in front of you were just one of your after-thoughts. And we all know, educators talk...what do you want your "talk" to sound like?
A core curriculum lesson needs to be meaty - not superficial. When I am planning a lesson, I think to myself, "I have 30 minutes to teach an important skill/concept. I need to make the most of that amount of time." My presentation and thoughtful planning will say that this skill/concept is worthy of the time I'm giving to it.
Finally, I love searching the web for ideas. Gosh, there are so many talented and creative school counseling and teacher bloggers out there! Then there is Pinterest... geez... creativity overload! Good for us, there are ideas right at our finger tips to access pretty quickly and pretty effortlessly. But, I want to say that we are doing our students a disservice if we are just taking these fantastic lesson activities and ideas that others tailor-made for their students and use them verbatim - without truly thinking about our students. My educator mind many times works on auto-pilot...I see something, I have a little brain spark, and I automatically say to myself, "I could do x, y, and z and make that work for this topic, etc." When we see a great idea, we need to think about how to make that work for the students in OUR building, in THAT grade level, with THAT class, or with THAT topic. Rewriting a lesson plan in your own voice will help you ponder about and solidify all of the bullet points that Linda wrote about above.
Happy Lesson Planning!