Lesson planning is like cleaning the kitchen. You are never done. As teachers, we are both proactive and reactive in planning lessons. We plan ahead, then execute, then go back to our plans to edit when students are not mastering concepts. We. are. always. lesson. planning. It might sound like a complaint, but it is just a reality of instruction – you must always have a plan. A plan for your lesson, a plan for your students, a plan for your planning period!
The purpose of this post is to give you my four step planning process. Ideally, when you plan… you are making a plan for many lessons at once. You are not planning a lesson from top to bottom and then starting over again to start on lesson 2, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Why should you lesson plan?
First, a horror story to teach us a lesson, ha! I was in my third year teaching, but it was my first year teaching 6th grade math. The 6th grade teacher I replaced was considered a legend. I received a flash drive with all of her lessons and materials that my A.P. instructed me to use. I thought I was set. I treated the materials as print-and-go. My district provided a summative assessment that we were required to use at the end of the unit. Fast forward to the week of the test. I am making copies of the test when I realize there were many skills I had not taught! After some digging, I realized that the 6th grade standards had been updated. I was teaching students the old, outdated standards!
So let’s talk about what I should have done and what I changed moving forward.
Step 1: Backwards Plan AKA Understanding by Design
Lesson planning starts with the standards. Do you ever read a standard and go, “huh?” Standards are a helpful guide, but they can be vague and unclear. To better understand the standards, I like to look at examples of how these standards are tested. This helps me see what is required by a student to show mastery of a concept AND it helps me see the rigor in which the standard is tested. If you teach in Texas, I highly recommend Lead4ward and Achieve the Core for teachers in other states.
6.7(A) generate equivalent numerical expressions using order of operations, including whole number exponents, and prime factorization
This standard says that I need students to create equivalent expressions using order of operations, right? But it doesn’t indicate just how complex these problems are. When I look at past STAAR tests, I see that the problems include all rational numbers, so I need to make sure that I teach this with negative numbers, with fractions, and with decimals.
I look at the test questions and ask myself, “What does a student need to be able to do to solve this problem?” I make a list and then start on step 2.
Step 2: 30,000 Foot View AKA The Unit Plan
Either create a calendar in Google Sheets or print a calendar with space to write. It helps to use a calendar of the grading period, so your major assignments can fall in line when your grades are due. Also, reference any scope and sequence that has been provided to you or do some research to see a natural progression of skills. Don’t expect to teach an entire standard in one day.
Don’t forget to include the following in your unit plan:
- A flex day — there will be kids out, there will be a field trip, or an alternative schedule, or a pep rally, so the flex day keeps me on track and I don’t have to rework everything when a change happens.
- At least 1 reteach day – they are inevitable, so you might as well plan for one.
- Your grading requirements — whatever your school requirements are, keep them in mind. If you are supposed to have two tests, then make sure they are on the calendar. While you are at it, make sure there is not an assessment in the last week of grading. It will literally save you so many hours of scurrying around trying to get absent students to take an assessment. Last thing, if you test students on a Friday, you will have more missing tests due to absences to manage.
Step 3: Start with a Reliable Curriculum AKA Maneuvering the Middle
If you are the type of teacher who likes to write problems and plan lessons from scratch, that is incredible! I was not that type of teacher. Teaching was already SO all-consuming that I could not imagine adding the role of curriculum writer to my workload. That is why I encourage you to find a reliable resource to use. Obviously, I recommend Maneuvering the Middle curriculum because it is standards-aligned, student-friendly, and constantly being updated. I used the resource daily, and while I did need to make tweaks to benefit my students, most of the prep work was off my shoulders which allowed me to use my energy differentiating, pulling small groups, scaffolding, and giving feedback.
Or maybe your district has something for you…great! Try to make tweaks and changes without starting from scratch.
Step 4: Batch AKA Be Efficient
Once you start batching, you never go back! Instead of planning everything required for Monday – warm up, hook, questions for your lesson, an activity, answer key, putting it on your LMS or make copies – only to repeat the cycle for Tuesday, batch! While you are looking for, or writing Monday’s warm up, go ahead and plan the whole week’s warm ups. While you are already online finding an activity for Monday’s lesson, go ahead and find the activities for Wednesday’s and Friday’s lessons too. Remember batching saves us time because our brains aren’t having to change what it is doing over and over again. And let us celebrate that we can reuse problems over and over again! Don’t expect for an entire unit to be planned in 20 minutes, but expect batching to make you more efficient with your time.
Lesson planning can be easier. Not easy, but easier. What do you do when you lesson plan?