An educator’s daily lesson plan is the most detailed and updated guide that they have to facilitate learning in their classroom. In essence, lesson planning is the educator’s opportunity to decide, in advance what curriculum to introduce, the instructional delivery method they will use, and how intended objectives will be assessed. After reading chapter 8, perform these two tasks.
We will end the chapter by discussing some of the most common pitfalls that teachers make when designing lesson plans.These pitfalls apply to all the lesson plan formats discussed in this chapter. Jones, Jones, and Vermette (2011) conducted athree-year study examining novice teachers’ lesson planning and implementation to determine the six most common lesson-planning blunders. Knowing what the most common lesson plan impediments are will help you navigate around them. You maynotice that these are similar to the pitfalls to writing instructional objectives, first described in Chapter 3; many of the sameprinciples apply.
This lesson-planning misstep happens when teachers focus on what content they will cover in the lesson instead of focusing onthe learning outcomes the students will have because of exposure to that content. Teachers who focus on learning outcomesassure that the lesson is learning-centered, and eliminate the difficulties of determining whether the lesson is teacher-centeredor student-centered. How will you know what you want students to learn? It is stated in your instructional objectives. Toovercome this pitfall, write the learning outcome from the student’s perspective. For example, “At the end of this lesson, I canidentify five types of carbohydrates” or “I can compare and contrast mitosis and meiosis.”
New teachers, overwhelmed with classroom-management issues, administration tasks, and extensive content to cover,sometime continue teaching without ever stopping to see what (if anything) students have learned. In many cases, discussion isthe sole way to evaluate student thinking. While this strategy is a useful formative assessment, without any tangible evidence ofstudent learning, there is no real accountability or indication that students have learned anything at all. To overcome thispitfall, consider authentic assessment as a strategy so that students create a learning product that is evidenced in an active andvisible process that helps students link content learned to the intended learning objectives.
To provide clues to students’ current level of understanding, teachers should use multiple means of collecting informationabout students’ thinking throughout the lesson. They can then use this information to differentiate instruction to meet learners’exact needs. A strong focus on evidence creation during the lesson will help document student achievement.
To overcome this pitfall, consider interspersing throughout the lesson plan Wiggins and McTighe’s (2011) deconstruction ofunderstanding into six facets: explain, interpret, apply, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge.
By mismatching the assessment of learning with the instructional objective, you will never know if the objective was met. Thispitfall can be tricky because teachers assume that students who are engaged in the assigned task will automatically gain thecognitive attribute intended.
To overcome this pitfall, consider using learning targets and the backward design process (Stiggins, 2008; Wiggins & McTighe,2011) and begin lesson planning with “identify desired results.” Rather than beginning lesson planning with a set of topics youneed to cover and then, after the fact, creating an assessment to match the topics, begin with the walk-away knowledge, skills,or dispositions you want students to have and then schedule activities that will lead to these take-aways. (For more informationon the backward planning process, see Chapter 4.)
Beginning a lesson with a quick “hook” with little or no meaningful student engagement leads to students being frustrated andunfocused rather than motivated to learn. Failure to start the lesson effectively leads to classroom-management issues,confusion, and off-task behaviors.
To overcome this pitfall, take the beginning of the lesson time to create conditions in which the students can play with ideas tohelp assimilate new concepts into their existing schema. This activity may take a longer or shorter amount of time dependingon the discovery task, level of students’ motivation, or depth of prior knowledge.
Lessons that only involve PowerPoint presentations or teacher lectures in which students sit quietly and listen have beenshown to be ineffective. Likewise, lessons that focus on recollection of facts rather than a negotiation of conceptual meaning arealso ineffective for enduring understanding. Plan instructional strategies that are student-centered and learning oriented.
The traditional “passive learner” paradigm is easier to overcome if preservice teachers are able to experience effective teachingduring their own K–16 experiences.
What do you think is the most damaging lesson-planning pitfall? Why?
Hello Dr. Z.—
So, you want to know about lesson planning? Well, let me tell you—it isn’t always as easy or as logical as the textbooksmake it out to be. This is something I have had to learn the hard way—because with 35 squirmy eighth graders in eachof my science classes, many whose hormones are rising here in the spring and all—well, you just can’t afford to come toschool unprepared—and live to tell about it, that is. I can’t always think in the “heat of the battle.” I have to have therelevant vocabulary terms listed out, and at least the words I am going to use to explain them, or I end up getting my“mords wixed up!” Then I can relax and let the planned activities just flow. But, not just any activity—it has to relate towhat we are doing in science or they start to just “blow it off.”
So, I find lesson planning to be difficult, but necessary. I work mainly from the eighth-grade science syllabus and the unitplans that we put together with other science teachers from the district last fall. I developed a lesson plan form that Isaved as a template in Word, so it comes up each time as a blank document and it automatically saves to a differentname without locking up my original form. I plan for one week at a time—sometimes two, if I have the time, and try tomake sure I know what I am doing in general the next week by Friday of each week. That way I can enjoy the weekendmore, and not have that feeling of dread that used to hit on Sunday afternoon. Next year should be easier, since I willhave most of the details already developed, and can modify the lessons depending on the students and what I have towork with, instead of starting from scratch.
The models for lesson planning that we learned at university are useful, and I have tweaked them a bit to make themrelevant to my own teaching context. I know (and have been taught over and over again) that one plans from theobjectives and the assessment, and then develops the activities to match. While this works to keep me focused, I stillthink about the activity, or how to teach the objective, while planning the assessment, because for me it really is arecursive process. Like, how can you unpack a standard if you have no idea about what the student could be doing todemonstrate that understanding?
Another thing that makes planning easier for me is to get a weekly routine that I can use to structure the learningobjectives and assessment around. For example, Monday I introduce a new concept (or bring in new informationregarding a concept from the week before), and plan for a demonstration, some lecture, some discussion, and a jigsawgroup or two. So the learning objectives and assessments for that day focus on an NGSS disciplinary core idea, and theability to explain the concept in one’s own words. For example, the core idea for these next two weeks is:
Plate tectonics is the unifying theory that explains the past and current movements of the rocks at Earth’s surfaceand provides a framework for understanding its geologic history. (ESS2.B Grade 8 GBE)
My objective for Monday’s lesson was for the students to explain the terms fault and plate boundaries, to define thevarious types of faults, normal, reverse, and strike slip, and the various types of plate boundaries, divergent, convergent,and transform. On Tuesday, I scheduled a lab activity that investigated the core idea presented on Monday. So theobjectives and assessments related to science and engineering practices (from the NGSS) applied to the topic, likeconstructing explanations. We took pieces of foam blocks and cut them to represent the types of faults and faultboundaries, and discussed concepts such as extension, moving apart, down-dropped blocks, and devised explanations ofwhat happens when these faults move, as in an earthquake. Wednesdays are research days. We took the essentialquestions from this part of the unit, the observations from the lab reports, and working in teams (usually four)formulated a specific question and organized an Internet research strategy—using the laptop carts that are reserved onthat day. We started with a site that allowed the students to chart the movement of land masses to better understandplate tectonics, and then they developed their own questions to research from there. Thursday is model-planning day—the teams report to each other on the results of their research and develop one visual model (2D or 3D) per team ofwhat they found in their research. The models must depict the cross-cutting concepts associated with that standard. Forexample, in the current unit (plate tectonics), the concepts they must show are either a pattern (like a numericalrelationship) or a scale (some concepts are too small to see, and others occur too slowly; they must show what scalethey are using). On Friday, each team presents the visual model and everyone submits an individually written report onwhat was learned. When planning, I match up the objectives and assessment strategies to the activity type, and thenschedule that objective for the corresponding day.
Is this the best way to do it? I don’t know. In an ideal world, Internet research and labs would be more spontaneous,driven by “teachable moments” as they arise. But I can only schedule a set of laptops one day per week—they are sharedwith other classrooms. And the lab is only available one day per week—so I have to plan carefully. Not only that—I havetwo students with disabilities in the fourth-period class, and several students throughout the day who struggleacademically, and at least ten students scattered among the classes who are eager, interested, and clearly ready foradvanced work. So, within these activity-scheduled days, I can plan for some predictable differences in advance. Forinstance, I always post my notes, PowerPoints, video clips, and websites that explain the same or similar concepts as thebook chapter to Edmodo, our course LMS, so the students can view them at home ahead of time or after class. Thosewho are still learning academic English or who read slowly can use computer screen readers to go over the informationone more time. On Wednesday, research day, students who want to explore advanced concepts can do so. And I try tomix the groups up so that each is as balanced as possible with each group having a mix of abilities.
So what planning model do I use? That also depends on the day, the objective, and the activity. I think that in eighth-grade science, given the resources and schedule that I have to work with, disciplinary core ideas (from the NGSS) arebest introduced with a direct-instruction approach. This seems to be the most efficient for me. And it matches what Iknow about teaching content—you have to start somewhere with science concepts—read, or listen, or view a video clip.We still explore and wonder using this type of lesson—I always have them develop a prediction or pose questions. Nowthat’s a hard one. They are so accustomed to trying to figure out correct answers, it is really hard for them to ask arelevant question. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I definitely use a 5E plan, since it fits so well with science, and it is moreof an inquiry-based approach. The students are getting used to it; at first, they just wanted me to tell them the answers. Iguess I use a social-interaction approach on Thursday and Friday, since they are primarily working in groups and haveto figure out how to report their findings.
Gotta go—team planning meeting in five minutes—see you Friday and we will catch up.
This week’s post from Valerie illustrates the thought processes that many novice teachers go through when planning.While she understands the value of lesson planning and the confidence it brings to implementation, she is surprised byhow much time it takes. Furthermore, when asked to analyze how she plans, she realizes that the linear processexplained in most textbooks is only part of the story. Like many other new teachers, Valerie plans with the content andan activity in mind, and then adapts it to make sure it aligns with the objective and assessment systems. At this point inher development as a teacher, she still has to make those connections explicit.
I noticed how her organizational schedule is really an attempt to reduce the cognitive load of planning. Given thecomplexities of the content, the student needs, and the limitations on resources, she is developing manageablestrategies that meet the needs of most of her students at the same time. The routines that she developed provide alogical structure for those strategies and allow her to concentrate on delivering the curriculum.
One place that has been especially helpful in instructional planning is an activity types taxonomy,http://activitytypes.wmwikis.net/HOME. This site lists three basic activity types for science: conceptual knowledgebuilding (such as read, attend to a demonstration, or discuss), procedural knowledge (such as practice, prepare, recorddata, or collect samples), and knowledge expression (such as write a report, create an image, develop a model, ordevelop a concept map). This site also offers a taxonomy of activity types for other subject areas, such as literacy,mathematics, music, science, social studies, visual arts—and more. A number of teachers have used this site to helpfocus their thinking in planning. In most cases, well-defined objectives and assessments can be interpreted as aligning toone or more of these activity types, and the suggestions can spark teacher thinking on appropriate activities.
I followed up with Valerie regarding the team meeting she was heading to. Her team has decided that next year, theywant to develop at least one thematic and interdisciplinary unit in the fall, and plan for one project-based unit in thespring. To help with the planning, they have decided to embark on a lesson study among the members of the team; theeighth-grade teachers of math, science, English, social studies, technology, and art. The purpose of the lesson study is tolearn something about the content of each other’s classes, and to identify places where the content could be integratedfor a theme or a project. For example, Valerie requires that the visual models her students produce use cross-cuttingconcepts identified in the standards, and she makes sure that she tries to connect to the state Common Core Standardsin ELA and Math as much as possible. She doesn’t always see the connections that could be made, however. In the platetectonics series of lesson plans, for example, visual models could be explained by using variables in a mathematicalproblem. The math teacher readily sees those connections, while it might take Valerie a bit longer, if at all, to discoverand add them to her lesson. So, the team is embarking on a lesson study to familiarize themselves with each other’scurriculum and ways of planning and structuring a lesson, in the hopes of generating some ideas for their goals for thefollowing year. And, guess who is presenting first!
—Celina Zwijacz, Ph.D.
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