by Harry and Rosemary Wong
How to Start a Lesson Plan
In the past two months' articles we said, "If you want to succeed as a teacher, there are two questions you must ask during your job interview."
- Does the district have a new teacher induction program?
- Does the district have a curriculum guide that is aligned to state standards?
So what do you do if a district does not have a curriculum guide for your grade level or subject?
When teachers leave schools and classrooms,
they take everything with them and leave nothing behind.
It's a sad commentary on the culture of education. For a profession that purports sharing and imparting of information, teachers horde their lesson plans, activities, worksheets, and tests with no tendency to want to share them with others. There is no "Bank of Wisdom" on the school's campus for new teachers to go to and make a withdrawal. So when a new teacher comes on to a job, he or she will have to start all over again at square one. Now you can understand why so many new teachers flounder and find themselves overworked trying to determine what to teach.
Districts should at least provide an outline of what the curriculum standards are for each grade level. This prevents repetition of information and allows for sequential growth and development. You are not to make up your own curriculum. You are not in private practice; you are an employee of a school district and the district should already have a curriculum in place. Can you imagine an airline telling its pilots they can make up their own flight plans? When you board the plane, you take potluck as to where the plane might land. If that sounds ludicrous, that's exactly what happens when many students come to class. The teachers do not know what to teach and the students do not know what they are to learn.
Susan Moore Johnson and Sarah E. Birkeland, from The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, interviewed new teachers and reported that "a surprising number of respondents reported that they had little curricular support in deciding what to teach or how to teach it."
Later in his career, John Dewey noted that one of the saddest things about American education is that the successes of excellent teachers tend to be born and die with them. Beneficial consequences extend only to those pupils who have personal contact with the gifted teachers. No one can measure the waste and loss that have come from the fact that the contributions of such men and women in the past have thus been confined.
Knowledge is of little value unless it is passed on to someone.
It has been said that if we do not share the knowledge within a week,
it will, more than likely, become obsolete.
A veteran, secondary English teacher shared the following with us recently.
"Newly hired, I went in during the summer to request the curriculum guide, and the curriculum coordinator began making nervous verbalizations that sounded like 'hamina, hamina, hamina...' When she finally located it, it was a two-page sheet with nothing but numbers on it: the textbook units and the state standards listed next to the unit numbers.
"I took one look at it and thought, 'What the heck is this?'
"Then I found out that the numbers listed were meaningless: the state standards had been revised. So in essence, there was no curriculum guide."
Tragically, the failure of many districts not to have a defined
curriculum will stay that way, because a major influence in the
profession continues to promote the concept that teachers should
be allowed to be creative. We do not contest this concept. However,
you cannot be creative until you have a background of information
from which you can create (http://teachers.net/wong/DEC01).
Can you imagine a cook pleading, "What am I supposed to cook?" or a salesperson pleading, "What am I supposed to sell?" Of course not.
Yet, we continually receive letters and read
Teachers.Net chatboard messages from new teachers pleading,
"What am I supposed to teach?" To all of you new teachers
who succeed despite the lack of an induction program (http://teachers.net/wong/MAY03)
and the lack of a curriculum guide (http://teachers.net/wong/JUN03),
we commend you. But that's of little consequence to those of you
who are in desperate need of help. So let's see if we can help.
The references for the following text may be found in Chapter 22 of The First Days of School.
What Is an Ineffective Assignment?
The bottom line in education is student achievement.
If the students do not do their assignments and do not show achievement,
no learning has occurred.
Education comes down to teachers giving assignments and expecting the students to complete the assignments. However, not all students complete their assignments and the reason may be that they cannot understand the assignment or fail to see the reason for doing the assignment---because the assignment may be poorly designed.
This is an ineffective or poorly designed assignment. The teacher says,
"The assignment is Chapter 7 and there will be a test on
Friday covering everything in Chapter 7."
The students have absolutely no idea what Chapter 7 means. Neither do the parents who the teachers exhort should be involved.
- What is the student to know?
- What is the student responsible for?
- What will be on the test?
Not only is "Chapter 7" an ineffective assignment, it is not an assignment at all. It is simply an announcement of a chapter number. The following are also not assignments: pages 404 to 413, Moby Dick, long division, Civil War. They are announcements of page numbers, book titles, topics, or themes. No one---not the students, not their parents who want to help, and, worst of all, not even the teacher---has any idea of what is to be learned. Thus, when the students have no idea what is to be learned, and the teacher has no idea what is to be taught, there is no student achievement.
This explains why students come to class every day and ask, "What are we going to do today?" Or they ask that really nerve-wracking question, "Are we doing anything important today?" Don't blame the students, because they truly do not understand the assignment. They show up each day for a class of what we call "mystery learning."
As you plan a lesson, stop asking, "What am I going to cover? What video am I going to show? What activity am I going to do? What worksheet am I going to give out?" The entire reference is "I," signifying what the teacher is going to do. You know a lesson is ineffective when it only talks about what the teacher plans to do, rather than what the students are to do. In school, it's the students who are to do the work, learn, and achieve, not the teacher.
The ineffective teacher is concerned with "covering" the subject matter. Such teachers spend most of the class time on the textbook and having students fill out worksheets in a mind-numbing environment. They do not teach to objectives, nor do they know how to teach for learning, comprehension, or mastery.
So the students just show up, wondering what the teacher will do next. Thus, an ineffective assignment is found when the teacher tells the class what will be covered.
What Is a Good Assignment?
Stop asking, "What am I going to cover tomorrow?"
Start asking, "What are my students going to learn, achieve, and accomplish tomorrow?"
These are the questions that should be first and foremost on your mind as you plan.
- What do I want the students to learn?
- What do I want the students to achieve?
- What do I want the students to accomplish?
Convey this information to the students, so they can be in control of their own learning.
The effective teacher tells the students at the beginning of every assignment what they are responsible for learning, for achieving, or for being able to perform.
Learning has nothing to do with
what the teacher COVERS.
Learning has to do with
what the student ACCOMPLISHES.
The role of a teacher is not to COVER. The role of a teacher is to UNCOVER.
The effective teacher uncovers the lesson by telling the students, up front, what the students are to have accomplished or mastered at the end of the lesson.
Effective assignments occur when
teachers teach with the end results in mind.
Look at the word "assignment." It means that someone will be assigned a task and at the end of the task a result or a product should be evident. For instance, you say to an assistant, "Please type this letter, and when you finish, please give it to me so that I can sign it." The assistant has an assignment and the result is a completed letter.
The role of a teacher is not to COVER.
The role of a teacher is to UNCOVER.
Another example might be when you take your daughter to the local bakery to
inquire about wedding cakes for her wedding. The baker produces a binder of
photos showing various wedding cakes. After one is selected, you say, "On
Saturday, June 15, I want that cake delivered at 3 p.m. to the church fellowship
hall." The baker has an assignment and the product is to be delivered on a
Good classroom assignments specify
what the students are to do or learn.
The finished product is what the teacher wants produced
as evidence of having done the assignment.
Steps to Creating an Effective Assignment
There are four steps to creating an effective assignment.
- Determine what you want the students to accomplish.
- Write each accomplishment as a single sentence.
- Convey these sentences to the home.
- Give the students these same sentences.
Step 1: Determine what you want the students to accomplish.
Hopefully, there will be no need for you make that determination, because what the students are to learn is found in district curriculum guides that are aligned to the state standards. Most states have standards. States will call them differently. In Virginia they are called Standards of Learning (SOL) and in Arizona they are called Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS).
However, if your district does not have curriculum guides for the various grade levels and subjects, keeping reading. The next section is called "How to Start a Lesson Plan."
We also highly recommend that you listen to the CD, How to
Improve Student Achievement (www.EffectiveTeaching.com),
for more information on how to write an assignment.
Step 2: Write each accomplishment as a single sentence.
To teach for accomplishment, you must have a series of sentences that clearly and precisely state what is to be accomplished. These sentences are called lesson criteria or objectives.
Each lesson criteria or objective must begin with a verb that states the action to be taken to show accomplishment. Verbs are "action words" or "thinking words." A chart of these verbs can be found on page 218 in The First Days of School.
Lesson criteria or objectives must be written before the lesson begins for
- The lesson criteria tell the students what is to be accomplished.
- The lesson criteria tell the teacher what is to be taught.
The student must know before the lesson begins what he or she is responsible for learning.
It is easy to write lesson criteria or objectives. There are only two things to do.
Step 1. Pick a verb. Refer to the list on page 218 in The First Days of School and use the verb you select as the first word in a sentence.
Step 2. Complete the sentence. The verb tells the student what action is to be taken and the rest of the sentence tells the student what is to be performed or mastered.
Make sure the sentence is precise and easily understood by you, the students, and their parents.
Step 3: Convey these sentences to the home.
Effective teachers communicate with the parents via a weekly newsletter or a daily website. The lesson criteria you just generated should be added to these communications sent to the home.
Step 4: Give the students these same sentences.
The students will love you for doing this. Finally, they have a teacher who can tell them what they are to do. Students want to succeed. They just want directions, not mysterious assignments like "Read Chapter 7." Instead of having assignments that are a mystery, they now have assignments they can master.
These sentences or lesson criteria tell
1. a student what is to be accomplished and
2. a teacher what to look for to see if the student has accomplished what was specified.
How to Start a Lesson Plan
You need a plan. Football coaches have a game plan. Executives have a business plan. Pilots have a flight plan. Likewise, effective teachers have a lesson plan. This plan must be visible on a teacher's desk. Remember it's not a mystery!
The lesson criteria you create must fit into an overall curriculum plan. If not, then all you have are a bunch of isolated lesson criteria that don't fit together into a semester plan for student achievement, much like a bunch of worksheets, videos, and activities that are utilized to occupy time.
Here is a simple step-by-step procedure for starting a lesson plan:
- Take a sheet of 8½-by-11-inch paper.
- Turn it sideways or "landscape."
- Along the left side of the page, write down what you want the students to learn or perform. These represent the criteria for the lesson. That is why these sentences are called "lesson criteria."
- Along the right side of the page, write down all the resources, lectures, activities, questions, videos, and worksheets you will use to accomplish the lesson criteria. If the video does not teach the lesson criteria, do not use it. If the worksheet does not teach the criteria, do not use it.
- Use only resources that are matched to the lesson criteria.
There are many places online you can use to find these resources:
Teachers.Net Lessons Bank - http://teachers.net/lessons
Please let us hear from you if you know of other good sources for lesson plans and lesson plan activities.
The general format of your completed lesson plan will look like this:
Lesson Plan Procedure
Lesson Criteria 1 ← Matched Activities
Lesson Criteria 2 ← Matched Activities
Lesson Criteria 3 ← Matched Activities
Lesson Criteria 4 ← Matched Activities
The dynamic parts of the lesson plan are the activities. To find these activities, attend conferences, workshops, and college classes. Access the Internet. Read the journals. Spend time constantly finding better resources that will help you to continuously become a more effective teacher.
Now That You Know Where You Are Going
It's all right to have videos, worksheets, and activities. In fact, you must have these. However, the question you must ask first is, "What do I want the students to learn?" Then start looking for the appropriate matching videos, worksheets, and activities that will enhance your teaching towards that goal.
Many schools do not have an academic plan. They have commercial programs, but no plans, no vision, no map of where the school is going and how it plans to get there. Therefore, it is essential that you start a set of lesson plans, because you need to know where you are going. And if you can convey this sense to your class, your students will come along with you.
If you do not know where you are going,
how will you know when and if you get there?
Note that this column says, "How to START a lesson plan." It does not say how to create a lesson plan. This is because lesson plans are like wedding plans, travel plans, and personal finance plans. They are constantly being modified and improved.
Thus, lesson plans are never neat and never complete. Lesson plans are a continuous process. Start one immediately, no matter how crude and rudimentary. It is essential that you have a start, because the start will determine where you are going. Regardless, there must be a plan!
It is essential to read the past two columns, May (http://teachers.net/wong/MAY03;
and June/July 2003 http://teachers.net/wong/JUN03),
as they are related to this column. They all have to do with student
achievement, and in the final analysis, that will be how everyone
will judge your success and how you will reflect on your own success
each and every day.
Without a lesson plan, without a classroom map, and without a guide of some form, there is no way you can grow. You can only grow if you have some direction. Thus, if you dare to teach, you must never cease to learn. Teaching, growing, and learning are continuous, lifelong processes.
We want you to succeed. We know you can succeed. As your lesson plans grow, you grow, and your students will grow with you.
Planting the Seed
We mentioned in the beginning of this column the lack of sharing within the profession. Consider starting a box to share---a treasure chest for the next teacher that inherits your physical classroom or position. Make an extra copy of your lesson plans, your activity sheets, even include a copy of your tests. It doesn't have to be fancy; it's just a means to pass on what you've learned so that the next person will not have to start all over again.
The culture for sharing can change and it can start today. We invite you to share your body of knowledge with others just as we share with you each month what we know and learn. The school year is just beginning. Start your chest with an extra copy of your script for the first day of school.
You'll never know the impact that gesture will make in the life of a fellow educator, but we suspect you'll be held in high regard and admiration for your commitment to the profession. All it takes is one person to make a difference. Take it upon yourself to be that one person. We can change the culture one gesture at a time.
Our very best wishes to you at the start of an exciting school year!
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