It’s a necessary evil based in scientific research. Tedious, time-consuming, and difficult are among the most common words used to describe the process. Yet, whether you’re anxiously typing away with excitement or it’s something you loathe entirely, lesson planning continues to be a gold standard in today’s teaching industry (and for good reason). Small businesses that have a plan in place are proven to be twice as likely to succeed as those without. The same can be said in the classroom, where lesson planning is a way to put goals in place for the day, week, month, and year ahead.
It’s a proven way to keep students on track, but the benefits of executing a lesson plan can have a positive impact on teacher mindset in the classroom. The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning highlights objectives for student learning in order to check student understanding as the core element of an effective lesson plan. Most of that is, and has been, familiar to teachers from the early days of college courses. However, those courses didn’t prepare teachers for the day-to-day happenings in a classroom. Since each class is bound to have it’s own culture with built-in dynamics, no experience will fully prepare you for what’s to come in the school year.
So how do you prepare for the school year? By breathing life into your lesson planning process with these five tips:
1) Think Outside (No Box Required)
A 2016 study conducted by National Trust determined children are only spending half as much time playing outside as their parents did. That is a startling statistic, especially considering the research available that supports the case for learning outside as often as possible.
While almost any lesson plan can be adapted for outdoor learning, science courses are an excellent place to start, particularly for elementary students. Try exploring the ways animals adapt to winter, learning about air pressure, or creating a comet. Learning outside can involve the senses in ways the classroom doesn’t, lending itself well to creative forms of expression suited for art, literature or English classes as well.
2) Start at the Test (And Work Your Way Back)
Staying on target with your objectives throughout the year is typically based on how you’re able to bring learning outcomes together along the way. In a list of assessment writing tips compiled by Brown University, researchers cited the importance of assessments as part of the learning process. Knowing ahead of time how you plan to assess students on a given topic can be an incredibly valuable tool in lesson planning. For your students, it may be the “end” of the process, but for you it’s the starting point and can help create an effective outline of talking points throughout your lesson plan to ensure nothing is missed along the way.
3) Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind
Sometimes it takes getting back to basics to head in the right direction. That means focusing on what you need to accomplish in the long-term, learning from experiences along the way, and staying focused throughout.
It’s important to remember each piece of the puzzle is created differently on purpose. Just as each student will bring a unique perspective to the larger group, each lesson plan is a necessary element of the end goal. Sometimes things will work, other times they won’t. Some lessons will run smoothly and others will flop. But the ability to stay focused on the piece that plays in the bigger picture at the end of the school year will increase the productivity and effectiveness of the entire process.
The components of a well constructed lesson plan may vary slightly from one topic to another, but each should include a warm-up activity, introduction, practice activity, production and review. An article in Busy Teacher walks through some suggested steps of writing a lesson plan, focusing on how each step comes together over the course of a school day, and how each school day comes together over the course of a school year.
It’s best to help get students in the right frame of mind to begin with and start by helping them understand what it is they will be learning. Practice and production are also key, and should involve work on the student’s part to learn more about the topic. And review is necessary to bring everything full circle in a way that not only stays with the students, but also could be replicated by another teacher someday.
4) Stay Flexible
This may seem to contradict the previous insights of this article, but it is just as important as everything else. Making adjustments as you go is a necessary component to proper lesson plan execution. This will obviously depend greatly on the makeup of students, their personalities, their learning styles, and how each of those things comes together into the overall classroom environment. The best place to start is in knowing each individual so you are equipped to anticipate some of the necessary changes instead of reacting to them in the moment.
In an article published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), research is presented in support of being flexible in the classroom.
“Effective teachers use a variety of strategies and a range of methods, and they changes and redefine these over time,” the article reads. Any number of things can get in the way of a perfectly good laid out plan, including students not being prepared for the lesson you’re about to present. If that’s the case, it is not only crucial to get to understand where the students are coming from, but to find new ways to motivate and instruct that keep students more aware and engaged throughout the course of the lesson.
That could involve stepping outside your comfort zone by trying a new activity for something you’ve taught the same way multiple years in a row. Other teachers are a great place to start, but there are also so many resources online for any grade level and subject area. Sometimes being flexible in the classroom means stepping outside your comfort zone to accomplish what’s best for the students.
5) What Would You Do?
Put yourself in your students’ shoes. What were you curious about when you were their age? What questions did you have about a topic? What interests you most? What do you still want to know? All of these questions are excellent things to ask yourself if you end up in a lesson planning block.
Classrooms have obviously changed in some pretty fundamental ways since most of us were in school, but that doesn’t take away from the basics of imagination, creativity and a thirst for learning. One way to embrace a changing environment is to find new ways to integrate technology into your lesson plans. There are several things to consider when evaluating Edtech in the classroom, but it’s a best practice to keep an open mind to trying something new as often as you’re comfortable.
“Effective teaching is fearless,” The ASCD article reads. “Because the goal is learning, effective teachers must adjust curriculum, methods, and pacing to meet the needs of the students. Effective teachers put a priority on student needs rather than on the strictly interpreted demands of the school district curriculum guide or the year-end test. Again, to do this, teachers must have a great deal of independence.”
Tedious, time-consuming, and difficult may be among the words you use to describe writing lesson plans, but they don’t have to be the only words that define the process. Add fulfilling, rewarding and worthwhile to that list by trying something new this year.
What are your favorite lesson improvement tips? Share them with us in the comments below.