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.
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.