Keys to Planning

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Time and time again teachers say to me “Just show me what a lesson looks like… a good one”. At times I wish there were a magic formula to give teachers insights to the entire process of planning, and most of the time I am glad there is not a magic formula because that is where the genius happens. Every student is different, thus every classroom is different, including the instructional needs. I believe strongly that there are some commonalities across great classes. The first is that planning is the most important instructional behavior in which teachers engage. (Mention briefly what the second thing is here, but leave the detail about checking for understanding for later) Ben Franklin said it best: “If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.” So aside from actually planning, there are two key components that I notice that impact instruction in the classes I visit and the teachers with whom I work.

The first key is to have a learning target. A clear, concise measurable DAILY learning target is key to planning a stellar lesson. Learning targets focus not only on the teacher and their planning, but engage the students as partners in the process. Think of going on a tour. When would you ever sign up without knowing where you were headed? Yet in classrooms everyday, students come to further their journey of learning and have no clue where they are headed. Learning targets allow learners to partner with their teacher to progress further along their path to proficiency. I should say that learning targets should be in student-friendly language and focused on performance. For example, “I can tell you what I did over the summer.” Instead of “Students will use the past tense to talk about what they did in the past.”

Many schools require or strongly suggest that teachers post learning targets, which is great. Do you post them? What about sharing the targets with students? Sharing the goal for the day can be really motivating for students. Already do that, too? High five! Consider sharing the menu of learning activities, too!

Another key to maximizing the learning episode (experience, maybe?) is to plan to check for understanding throughout the lesson. We often get caught up in designing the activities, but forget there is a multistep input process because we jump too soon to production. There are many ways to check for understanding that do not require production, but can provide great feedback to you as the teacher.

Many of these strategies, once developed, can be used over and over in subsequent units. Consider using hold-ups, whiteboards, or gestures to allow students to demonstrate understanding before jumping to production. You can prepare several of these holdups, store them in a ziplock bag under the desk to save time. We have some language specific and general hold-ups you can use here: Whatever methods you choose to check for understanding, PLAN for them.   Add how you will check for understanding throughout your lesson to your lesson plans in addition to the culminating activity; that allows students to demonstrate their capacity with the learning target.

These are just two of many components that are essential to planning quality lessons, but they are the two MAJOR components that can make or break your lesson. First, where are WE headed, and  second, are we ll together? Two small shifts can make a huge impact in learning! How are or will you incorporate these into your learning environment?

Alyssa Villarreal, is the President of Advance Learning and World Language Coordinator for Shelby County Schools (SCS) in Memphis,…

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