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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It’s all in the Planning

The most important key to teaching success is good planning. There is no substitute for it, no way to get around it, and if you do not do it you will most assuredly be a dismal failure as a classroom teacher. The question most often asked is “Where do I begin?” You begin with the school division’s established curriculum, which will include state standards of learning in academic classes or state competencies if you are teaching in a vocational field. Established curriculums are the minimum you must teach in your classroom. Additional material is added for enrichment as time allows you do so.
Develop a Pacing Guide

Next, you take this curriculum and divide it into manageable chunks (units) that can be taught in two weeks or less. I highly recommend shorter units and find that students are more successful if material is broken up into manageable chunks. At the end of the each unit there should be a major test given. In addition, there should be multiple assessments (both written and oral) taking place each day in your classroom. More opportunities for assessment within a grading period tend to raise student grades and give students more self confidence. Of course not all units can be set up in a two week block; some units may take only a few days while a few units could take longer than two weeks if you are teaching in a high school. I would recommend that you never let a teaching unit go over three weeks. Smaller is always better.

Next, buy a large calendar and put in the first day of school, the last day of school, all holidays, teacher workdays, division testing days, etc. These are the days in which you are not in control of what goes on in your classroom and these days can not be used to teach the curriculum. The days you have left on your calendar are used to teach the manageable chunks (units) that you have created. Your calendar should reflect the number of days needed to teach each unit as well as a testing time for each unit. A day is the amount of time that you are allotted for each subject you teach each day.

After this calendar has been created, you take the number of days left at the end and allocate them back into your pre-set units; this will give you time for enrichment (in depth study) that would improve the quality of your student’s education. The calendar is then adjusted and now you have a pacing guide.

Creating a pacing guide is the first step toward setting up a teaching plan for success. Some school divisions give you an outline to go by but even that outline has to be adjusted for the level of the students you are teaching. If your students are all advanced, then you can go faster and offer more enrichment; if your students are at risk, then you may need to break down the curriculum and divide developed units into smaller sub units to ensure student success.

Plan Your Units

Now that we have a pacing guide, it is time to start planning your teaching units. I recommend you set up a notebook with a divider for each unit that you will be teaching. You can do this in folders on your computer just as easily. I do recommend that you keep a hard copy notebook of your units to use for reflection and replanning once a unit has been taught. Computers sometimes breakdown and you lose stuff, so always back up files and take the necessary precautions; you never want to become totally dependent on your computer for all of your resources.

Next, you plan one complete unit including all activities that will be used to teach the unit and all the assessments that will be used to evaluate the unit. While you are teaching the first unit you have planned, you should repeat this process for the next unit. This should be your process for the entire year. If you are a new teacher or a veteran you should always be teaching one unit while working on the next. You can never allow yourself to plan the night before for what you plan to teach the next day. If you do this you will always be off balance and always struggling to have enough material for your students to do. Advanced planning is extremely important to the success of your lessons.

As you plan your first unit, I want you to think PPA (Present, Practice, and Assess). These are the three things you must do for each activity you plan each day. Presenting is how the initial information is delivered to the students. This could be teacher talk and/or modeling, reading, demonstrations, cooperative learning, brainstorming, etc. Practicing is letting the student use the presented information in a second format. This could be a scavenger hunt, a drawing, experiments, creating charts and graphs, etc. Assessment is how you evaluate your teaching and whether student learning has taken place. Written quizzes, questioning, and games should be part of the daily lesson plan and must take place after each activity that you implement in your classroom.

Time must be considered when planning and each activity must be given a set amount of time for completion. If you do not estimate how long it will take you to complete activities you may under plan and not have enough work for the students to do. If you have 60 minutes to teach a particular subject you should always have 90 minutes planned in case you have underestimated the amount of time needed to complete a specific task. In addition to time, you must also have a complete materials list for each activity. I have seen many great lessons disappear because a teacher had to start looking for materials in the middle of the lesson. As a teacher you must know what you need, how much you need, and have it located at your fingertips.

Lastly, you must include procedures to carry out each activity. No matter what you want students to do there must be an established way of doing it. For example, if you want your students to move into groups of four then they must do so while you count to five. If you want them to complete tasks in set amounts of time then use a timer and a checklist. If you are using colored pencils have them located in a specific location and have a set amount of time to obtain them. Procedures should be taught and practiced like rules in your classroom. In fact if you have good procedures for specific tasks in your classroom you will probably not need rules. Students should have direction for everything that they do in your classroom. It is easy to write a good plan but a good plan cannot be executed without procedures. Organization of the learning environment is a must if you want to be a good teacher.

Plan Day by Day

Now that we have the basics down it is time to get into the serious planning. Below is a visual that I hope will help you with your lesson planning and will answer some of your questions. (Right click on picture and click "open in new window"or "Open in new tab" to get full page in a new browser window, you can print from this window/tab.)

Anyone should be able to pick up your lesson plan and know what you are going to teach, how you will teach it, what materials you are going to need, and how you plan to evaluate whether your students learned what you taught them. Every day your plan will look different. Some days you might have three activities while other days you may have six activities. It will depend upon what you need for your students to accomplish.

Lesson planning should not be frightening; it should be a blue print to success. A lesson plan should include all essential facts and skills that your students must know in order to reach the minimum competency goals of the state you live in as well as all the enrichment you can provide your students to ensure that they are successful in life. For example, reading and writing are so important in order to succeed in anything that you do; working only at a minimum competency usually does not give a student all he/she needs to be successful.

Evaluate Your Planning

Now that you have planned and taught your lessons it is time to add feedback to existing lesson plans. Take a red pen and go to work. If one of your activities took longer than expected, you will need to note this on your lesson plan. If some of the activities were great, you will need to note this, because you want to use them again. If some of the activities were not so great, then you need to note this and decide which ones can be rewritten and which ones need to be thrown away. Having one good planning year will make all the difference in your classroom; is this your year? I see so many teachers who do not keep good records and as a result they must start over each year. These teachers never really get their classroom organized and efficient. On the other hand some teachers create one lesson plan; and even if it is bad, they teach it year after year. These teachers are not really interested in their students and should find other careers. Expert teachers are always planning, changing, evaluating, rewriting, and I could go on and on; choose to be an expert and get started today. Expert teachers change lives; what type of teacher do you want to be?

To get files related to this article please email me at smmcnamee@comcast.net

If your computer does not have a program that allows you to click and send email then cut and paste my address into your own email program.

Find more Teaching Strategies like this on the Teaching Strategies Page


Anonymous,  January 31, 2010 at 9:38 PM  

Very interesting blog. I'm having a lot of problems in the classroom but I'm trying to correct my mistakes. This article was insightful. I will use many of the suggestions as soon as possible.


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