Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lesson planning and formatting

I started teaching several years ago in Nov of 2006. True, I was teaching adult ESL then and now I'm teaching middle school science, but the aspect of lesson planning hasn't really changed. Not at all really. In fact, planning swimming lessons is much the same process as planning ESL lessons which is much the same process for planning science lessons. I've never liked any of the formats presented in books, classes, or seminars for planning out lessons when its a general lesson and not for a specific class. They, the book, the teacher, the instructor, assume that you can define the parameters for the class even if you don't know what class this lesson will be for. The lesson writer must make an assumption about how much class time there is, the level of the students, the pacing the students can handle. I never liked this, because when you finally had the class assigned with actual students, the characteristics of that class never lined up with the assumed characteristics of your fictional class. I have any number of examples of the issues with this general system, but I will refrain from detailing them all here.

I do see the general idea behind requiring the lesson writer to make assumptions about a class and then write a lesson plan. New teachers need the practice, ideally before they are under the crunch of time and a looming class period for which she must be prepared. I suspect that I learned more than I realized in those classes that required this lesson writing for a fictional class, and I owe more to those books and teachers than I give them credit for at this point. Nonetheless, those styles of lesson plans have helped me when I'm planning for a specific lesson and a specific class, but I yearned for a lesson plan style that allowed me to get the bulk the creative effort out of the way before the crunch time hit. Perhaps for others, this isn't an issue, such that the creative ideas spring from their mind easily. Or perhaps I'm unique among teachers in trying to come up with these creative activities (I seriously doubt this and will be drop-down surprised if this is actually true). I love brainstorming all the fun things I can do to convey new knowledge to my students, but when I'm looking at a looming class time in the midst of also grading assessments, inputing grades, making sure I did attendance today, finding the supplies I need for this activity or that activity, those creative thoughts are dashed against the walls of must-be-dones.  With 2 weeks till teachers start back with in-service, meetings and collaborations, I could feel the crunch developing and decided I would come up with a way to plan lessons that got the creative effort/ideas done (or mostly done) before the crunch hit.

There are a few things I know about the classes I'll be teaching this year: the classes will be 45 to 50 minutes long and either 3 times or 5 times a week (Grammar 5 meets 3 times, Grammar 6 and Logic 2 meet 5 times a week).

All of this starts with my writing up standards in my efforts to convert my haphazard grading non-method into a somewhat structured form of standards based grading (SBG). I've also been asked to start work on curriculum maps for 2 classes I teach, so I've already been thinking about the topics to be covered and reviewed in those classes.  Then, for teach topic, I wrote out the standards, basically what I think each students should know at the end of that topic. Then I divided those standards into smaller subtopics that could reasonably be covered in one class time. Then I let the creative juices flow... for each class time (based on the standards I partitioned into that time period) I wrote out all the possible activities I could do with the idea of having a slew of creative ways to communicate the new information. Finally, I finished with what is the most difficult part for me, I wrote assessment questions. I considered what I wanted the students to know, and how to make them demonstrate that knowledge. Here's the first topic I put together. Its not crazy exciting or fancy, but I think it will work for what I want. I'm also considering setting up a wiki with all my topics/lessons as I'm sure there are other teachers of middle school chemistry who might be interested in my collection, especially if they are teaching at a school with a classical/Charlotte Mason bent.

I'm fairly certain that this is remedial for the vast majority of teachers. Or perhaps my assumptions of where I stand on the good-bad teacher continuum is are skewed? Anyhoo, I looked around for several years for a method of writing lessons that gave me the bank of ideas/questions/activities that I need to be a good teacher during crunch time. Perhaps its out there, but since I never found it, I came up with my own.

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