11 August 2005

Putting It Together

Is there a Holy Grail when it comes to lesson planning? As teachers, we're expected to now juggle standards, brain-based learning, research based strategies (e.g. Marzano's ideas), authentic assessment, reading/writing strategies, and more. Every time I read a new professional book or go to a (good) professional development meeting, something else is added to what I'm "supposed" to be doing. That is, if I want to be a good teacher.

Things were so much simpler when I was told that if I just followed the Madeline Hunter model of lesson planning, classroom life would be sweet. My, how things have changed since I was in school to be a teacher.

The past few days, I've been on a hunt for the Lesson Plan Holy Grail. Not just for myself, but for my colleagues. In fact, I'm such a darned fool for this idea, that I agreed to do my presentation on it for the Secondary Curriculum Day. (You know---the one I had no clue as to what to do.) At this point, it feels like I'm making sausage. I have Marzano's nine strategies from "Classroom Instruction that Works." I have Marcia Tate's twenty strategies for engaging the brain from "Worksheets Won't Grow Dendrites." I have how to lay out classroom time from "The Brain Compatible Classroom" and when to use certain strategies according to "Key Elements of Classroom Management." There are other sources, too---and everything is going into the sausage maker. I'm cranking away, hoping for some nice links.

Here is what I have so far in terms of laying out the Holy Grail:


What are the content standards or other curriculum requirements? What is their "cognitive demand"?
Block #1 (first 10 - 20 minutes of class time):

Where are we? That is, is this the beginning of a unit—or at least "new to the student" material? Or, has the class already been working on some information with this unit?
Down Time #1 (2 - 4 minute break for the brain):
What is the big idea that you would like students to hold onto the most? What is the best tool for helping them do this?
Block #2 (10 - 20 minutes more of instruction):
What new information (if any) is vital to add at this point? How can you help students make connections to previous learning?
Break/Down Time #2 (remainder of class):
Where are the students in terms of their learning—do they need more practice with the information and/or skills or are they ready to begin applying the learning?
Are we there yet? Do students need feedback at this point or can a simple check of their learning be enough? Do you need to allot Block 1 for remediation tomorrow?
The time frames are based on cognitive science: how long the brain can "pay attention." Blocks 1 and 2 could be lecture, guided reading, discussion, and/or demonstrations. "Down Time" refers to a short change to refresh the brain, but it doesn't mean nothing is happening. Here is where you ask students to summarize, create a mnemonic device, do "think-pair-share," journal entry, etc. The second "down time" might include cooperative learning or individual practice if students are in need of reinforcing knowledge or skills. If they're ready to apply and do something with their learning, you could structure the assignment however you like.

My next problem will be devising a 90-minute inquiry into this for staff members who choose to attend my session in a couple of weeks. I want to keep things as simple as possible, in addition to being useful. But it will be a perfect opportunity to try out my new and improved lesson plan. :)

UPDATE: If you reached this post, hoping to find a copy of the Holy Grail of Lesson Plans...and are disappointed, I can e-mail this document to you. Send your request to the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com


Anonymous said...

The time frames are based on cognitive science: how long the brain can "pay attention."

That's pretty interesting. From the little that I know about cognitive science, I'm sure you're right. But I can't remember any of my teachers using any of this stuff. For example, I had a fabulous calculus teacher. She was voted Texas Teacher of the Year the year before I had her. Her lecture style was extremely simple:

* first five minutes: chit chat with students about random stuff. Make sure everyone has at least one good laugh.

* rest of the time: lecture while writing on blackboard as fast as possible.

That was it. Each class was a dead run for the bell. She either kept notes or just remembered where she left off each day (there was only one calculus class each day, which may have made it easier) because she never had to ask us. We would come out of that class feeling like we had run a brain-marathon. On the other hand, the time flew by and there was no chance for distraction - we were just too busy.

About every two or three weeks, we would have a "review" class where we would go back over things and there would be a chance for questions about earlier lectures.

Of course, she was teaching the "good kids" in this class. We were all motivated, smart kids with parents that expected A's and no excuses. I'm sure it's different these days, particularly with the less motivated kids whose parents who don't give a rip.

We sure learned a lot of calculus that year though.

The most interesting question is: would we have learned more if we had been paced differently? I don't know, but I'll bet we would have. I know for sure that our physics II teacher, who got most of us right after calculus, would sure have appreciated getting a class that wasn't all wrung out.

Do you, oh Goddess, see lesson planning like this working with course material that is more of a flow (like math), rather than descrete blocks (like, say, chemistry). The proof, for example, that sin squared plus cos squared equals one, just to pick a random example from my head, is probably longer than 20 minutes and doesn't really have building blocks. How do you handle stuff that doesn't break easily into blocks?

Thanks for a very educational post.

The Science Goddess said...

It's only been recently (as in the last 5 years) that any sort of noise has been made about applying cognitive science to education, although it makes good sense to pair them.

I think it will only be a part of a larger shift in terms of how we do business in the classroom. The idea of "chunking" up lessons can be adapted to different disciplines, but it will likely lead to a "less is more" kind of thing. Maybe you don't try to cram 5 different concepts into students' heads in one class period. Instead, maybe you do 1 or 2 really well---in a way that students can grasp the concepts (as opposed to just facts and formulas) and apply them in different ways. Might not be such a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

I just did my first lesson plan for my teacher education class.

It took me two weeks! ;-)

I did based on Washington state grade level expectation for middle school science on plant and animal cells.

What flummoxed me was what does the state of Washington think is the difference between plant and animal cells at the middle school level.

I traveled the web, I purchased books, I read and researched. And I found all sorts of conflicting information!

So finally I took a bit from here and a bit from there and came up with my own set of plant and animal cell diagrams, vocab, explanations.

Because as one of my classmates told me - you don't need to know that now, you need to WRITE A LESSON PLAN.

I got 100% on it.