Sometimes, the detours off the planned routes in life lead to the best destinations.
I was thinking this week about high school back in the early 80's. It was my senior year. I was on the academic track and enrolled in upper level courses including Chemistry 2, Physics, and Calculus. It became apparent around October that Calculus was not working out. I was failing and the material just didn't make sense. After counseling with my parents and the teacher, we decided it was best that I finish the semester and then find another course. I was devastated. Here I was, on track to graduate with honors and I needed higher level classes to get me there. (By the way, I barely missed honors status, probably due to that Calculus course).
So, after dropping Calculus at the semester (which I passed by a hair, I'm proud to say), I was stuck with what to take. My teacher recommended a computer programming course, but I chose Basics of Typing instead. Looking back, this may have been the most beneficial choice of my entire high school career. I can't tell you the last time I used Calculus. I can tell you that I type almost every day. It is a foundational skill required in almost everything I do. And, since developing a repetitive motion disorder that affects the legibility of my writing, it is about the only way I can effectively communicate on paper.
If someone would have told me thirty-one years ago that this one choice would affect my everyday life as it has, I would have laughed. Yet, sometimes, it is the little detours off the planned route that have the greatest impact on our lives.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Lesson plans are a foundational tool for classroom instruction and a road map for where the lesson is going. Without a plan, developing a strong, cohesive lesson is difficult if not impossible. With over 15 years of classroom experience, I've seen a number of different lesson planning methods. Very few of these involved collaboration, with most either created by a department chair or done in isolation by the teacher.
Earlier this summer, my principal came back from a workshop with a new lesson planning strategy. In the past, the department chair had written lesson plans. These were then followed by the respective grade level teachers. It put a lot of pressure on the chair, but very little on the teachers. Under our new lesson planning strategy, we are sharing the wealth and the struggle.
Below is a simple outline of the strategy:
1) Lesson planning duties for the week are divided into 6 categories
a) Standards explanation for each subject (in kid friendly terms and integrated as often as possible)
b) Small group instruction resources (including spiraled review)
c) Vocabulary terms and strategies
d) Hands-on Engagement activities
e) Higher order thinking questions
f) Formative and summative assessment strategies
2) Each group member is responsible for a separate category each week. Their work is posted to a Dropbox folder.
3) During grade level meetings, each teacher presents their piece to the group, allowing for questions and discussion.
4) Using teaching manuals, post-its, tablets, etc., members take notes during the meeting to help them write their day-to-day lesson plans.
5) At the close of the meeting, responsibilities for the following week are given out.
6) Back in class, teachers write individual lesson plans using the resources that have been placed in the Dropbox. They can modify and enrich the material to fit the specific needs of their group in order to differentiate instruction.
Since it is only two weeks into the school year, it is difficult to determine how well this method is working. However, I've noticed some interesting features of the meetings. First, teachers have admitted to being challenged by this new format. The rest of the group has encouraged and accepted their efforts. Second, teachers have had meaningful dialogue about both the content and effective teaching strategies. Third, leaders are beginning to emerge from within the teams. Finally, teachers are holding each other accountable for getting their piece of the task complete.
While the implied purpose of this process is to help teachers develop stronger, more cohesive lessons, I expect some longer term results as well. I expect teachers to begin discussing what has worked, and what hasn't, and for this to lead to more effective lesson delivery. As teachers continually rotate through different assignments, I expect them to grow in their ability to connect each part of the lesson to the standards. Ultimately, I expect true professional learning communities (PLCs) to develop that will impact instructional practice across the campus. It has been said that the "experts" are already in the building. As a campus, we are putting this into practice as we implement this new lesson planning strategy.
More to come as the year progresses.