Creating an amazing lesson plan is like creating the perfect recipe. It takes planning organization a vision and most importantly repetition and reflection. Few get it right the first time so we need to examine what went well and what doesn't work.
The first step in creating a lesson should be to decide what your learning outcomes should be. When searching for the perfect recipe you need to figure out what you want to make. If you have a sweet tooth, you have to decide between a torte, cake, brownies, cookies, pies, etc. Let's say you choose cake, you then have to decide chocolate, carrot, red velvet and the choices go on as well. There are so many potential choices made in this process that it can seem daunting. The same is true of lesson planning. Both are essential to the process. In order to read your desired outcome, you have to define it clearly. In Lesson planning, if we want students to walk away with a specific understanding, they need to know what it is we want them to know.
Today I am working with teachers as they design unit plans and lessons. They are using Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I am a fan of this curriculum design methodology. You need a clearly defined goal and then think about desired results. What will students learn and do with the content. What Essential Questions will students wrestle with and what will they produce to demonstrate their level of understanding. This is the framework for a lesson plan much like you have your vision of what your desired desert will look and taste like. Now you can begin to pull together your ingredients to achieve your goal.
Now that we have a plan for our desired outcomes, we have to fill in the details to turn the idea into reality in our classrooms. I will admit that throughout my career I have pillaged and plundered lesson plans. I am a huge proponent of beg borrowing and stealing others great lessons. However just because it was a magical experience in their classroom doesn't mean you will be able to reproduce that spark in your students. This is the premise for this post. While I think finding inspiration in others lessons and ideas, in the end you must make it your own and adapt it for your learning environment. Just because something is amazing for others doesn't mean it will have the same results for you.
One example of a great lesson that I borrowed was from Bill Bigelow The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play. I found it amongst many other Zinn Education resources. I liked the fact that it put students in position to make the difficult decisions that those in the past also had to make. I thought students would be able to channel the spirit of their group by embracing their roles and thinking about the impact on themselves and others of their decisions. The students would spend time creating their position and then debate the issue. I did the lesson as was instructed, but if flopped. Students didn't embrace their roles. They didn't fully see the interests of their group or the impact of the decision they were making. They weren't able to truly comprehend the complexities of their assigned roles.
Something was missing! Just like great recipes that have been fine tuned throughout the years, so are great lessons. Sometimes the things that make them great are little things that the author doesn't put on paper or is something that is less tangible which is the culture that has been created up to that time.
I contacted Bill Bigelow and told him about my experience and he told me the key for him was the planning section where students work in their small groups and create their position statements. This is time where he has conversations with the groups. I had students create the statements, however I didn't jump into their conversations as much as I should have. I didn't delve into their thought process, challenge their ideas when they didn't match their historical counterparts thinking. I didn't push them to dive deeper about the consequences or to justify their decision. He had some suggestions for questioning and conversation starters that I hadn't thought about because I wasn't the author. I need to know that key piece of the activity in order to raise my version of the lesson to the next level for my students.
I figured out what was missing in this lesson. The challenge to teaching is that each lesson just like a recipe is there are key elements that can make or break a lesson. We know this in our own classroom. One class period will rock a lesson, and the next won't measure up even though you taught it the same way. Each experience is dependent on the human beings engaged in the experience and as we know each of our students is unique. What resonates with one student or class may not have the same level of connection for all students.
Teaching is an art and we are all unique artists, each painting on a unique canvas that is our classroom.
Sharing lessons and ideas is caring. The more we share the more we grow and it's good for kids. So continue to share, however with the power of Twitter and other social media we are able to contact or be contacted to help others find those key elements that make the lesson a magical experience.
Lesson planning requires a clear set of objectives that should start with the end in mind.
Lessons like recipes should be constantly reflected upon and refined to reproduce the great product repeatedly.
This past week I ran my first 10K. Previously I had only been able to run 4 miles, so this was a major accomplishment for me. I had planned on running this with my daughter with the expectation that we would run and walk together to accomplish this. Well the week before the run my daughter got sick and wasn't able to do it with me. I decided I would still do it, I mean I paid for the registration and had the t-shirt, so why not?
When I got there I was nervous, doubting that I would be able to run beyond the 4 miles I had previously done. I met a couple of people before the race and we started talking about what brought us out that morning and what our motivation and goals were.
I met an 11 year old and his mom who were running it for the second time, and he was looking for 10 minute miles. I thought wow, I haven't done that in my few runs this spring, so that would be difficult. But part of me saw this as a challenge. If an 11 year old can do that pace, so can I. Well that was my mentality at mile 0.
The Elite runners start at 8 am while the rest of us move through our corrals listening to Chariots of Fire waiting for our turn to meet the challenge that awaits us. Some look at this as a training run, others a personal mission. I mention this because before I started the race, the Elite runners were finishing the course. The top finishers crossed in 29 minutes, my 5K was 31 minutes so by now you can probably figure out I was not on a training run or an Elite runner.
Why the Title?
You are probably wondering why I would use such a self serving title to a post about how I am an average runner at best. Why do I think I am incredible? What did I do that completing a 10K was so amazing that I should write about it and take your time to read it?
The answer could be that for 1:03:45 I felt like I could do something pretty special in my own life. As I ran those 6.2 miles through the streets of Green Bay with about 14 thousand other people, and seeing so many others come out to support I was inspired.
The sincere and true reason for the title is that it isn't about me. The above story is what inspired me to write about how we can apply this to eduction. I definitely don't think I am incredible, I know I didn't set any records for this run. In fact I am finally finishing this about 2 months after I started because I struggled with the title. The premise for this title is that we can all be incredible at times, at least we can feel this way. The crowd, the people I met, my kids and family after the race made me feel like I had done something pretty special.
I started thinking about this post as I ran the first few miles. I was feeling good, there were people playing music and holding signs cheering for loved ones and friends. As I progressed along the course, there were people spraying garden hoses to cool us off, others handing out cups of water. After mile 4 I started to feel the strain of running, my feet started to hurt, my pace slowed a little but then I started to see the signs saying "You are Awesome!" not directed at anyone individual but all of us. I felt like I was being supported by everyone out there. I pushed through mile 4 then 5. I reached mile 6 and was tired, but the crowd was amped up was so loud and positive, I couldn't walk, I had come so far, I needed to finish. I rounded the corner to the finish line the last few hundred yards and tried to sprint (I use the term loosely) but didn't have anything left. I finished and was tired but exhilarated. I ran the farthest I had ever run. I was close to my 10 minute pace, and I had people cheering me on. A side note, my feet hurt so badly after the run that I struggled to walk back to my car, which I couldn't remember which direction I had parked, so I experienced the agony of da Feet
For anyone who has participated in an organized event like this whether a run, as a member of a sports team, you have likely had people cheer and support you. However there are groups of our students and many of our colleagues who may not hear how awesome they are often enough. I found in my run that as the crowd cheered I became more energized, and pushed myself to finish strong.
Make Every Student Feel Incredible!
In our classrooms do we provide this support to all of our students? Do we treat them all as they are amazing? They are all different, but all of them and teachers all need to feel like we are doing good things. Getting excited when a student who doesn't normally participate shares something will likely help that student feel valued and be more willing to share more often.
How powerful it is to have a cheerleader rooting for you, supporting you and letting you know that you can accomplish something you think is difficult. I began to think about how we can leverage this with our colleagues and students. How can we be the cheerleaders for them? They need to feel supported, cared for and most importantly that they are incredible and capable of phenomenal things in their lives. We need to build them up every chance
Students need cheerleaders, fans, boosters and most of all people in their corner regardless of the type of student they are. We are here for them, never forget that and always let them know that is your first and most important reason for entering school each and everyday.