At the core of a teacher’s practice is their planning. Planning is the process by which a teacher determines the outcomes they seek for their students (whether at a course, unit or daily lesson plan level) and then determines the best plan to allow for students to reach those desired outcomes. Having clear goals is important to making planning purposeful and useful. There were many a time when I planned for a lesson, only to realize after I taught the lesson that I had no clear outcome in mind. This was evident whenever I felt that I did not know where students stood at the end of a lesson in their understanding of a given concept. That lack of feedback informed me of a failure in my planning. A teacher must know where their students stand, as all lessons will fall to the wayside if students are at one place, and the teacher assumes they are at another. The remedy is to backwards plan. With the assessment in mind, a teacher can correctly determine what students will need to know in order to achieve the goals as measured by the assessment. Assessments are ultimately forms of feedback, and the more feedback a teacher has, the better they can adjust to help their students.
Teachers at ConneXions School for the Arts use the Understanding by Design Unit Plan template. This unit plan template (Blank UbD Template, 6b, j, r, v; 7f, g) guides the teacher to plan backwards from their desired outcomes for independent student actions, with assessments that give feedback on how students are reaching those outcomes. At ConneXions our final assessments are known as exhibitions, which ask students to present a final project in front of a panel of teachers (Example Chemistry Exhibition, 6e, g, k, t). This rigorous experience for students must be supported with learning activities that allow students to build skills throughout the semester to achieve high marks on their exhibitions.
In order to plan for students to achieve the desired outcomes I had for the course, I needed to devise unit plans that were integrated with and built upon one another. To align my units in this matter, I started a course planning document. This is a working document, and I am always tweaking it or changing it based on how the students respond to the course (Course Planning for Technology ’13, 7c, l, p, q). Within a unit, I would develop a learning plan that would sequence how topics were introduced to students and what assessments I would use (whether formative or summative) to determine if students are progressing satisfactorily. All of this would be aligned to objectives from the unit. Here is an example of my alignment of lesson objectives to assessment items for my chemistry class (Cookin’ Chemistry Alignment, 6a, b, o, t, v; 7b, k).
At the daily lesson plan level, I build in multiple opportunities for student feedback. During a lesson, I utilize a technique known as “whiteboarding” quite often. Students have a dry-erase marker and a sheet protector with a blank paper or a template inside of it. The surface is erasable and students can answer a question on the board, and hold the board up in my direction so that I can give them immediate feedback on whether they got a practice question right or wrong. For example, during a lesson on electrons students were practicing how to determine electron configuration. I created a whiteboard template which allowed students to practice the strategy for determining electron configuration in a non-stakes, safe environment. At the end of a lesson, I normally give an exit ticket based on the lesson (Sample Exit Ticket, 6g, j, t). Students will take the exit ticket on a scantron, which they can then scan with my computer’s camera. Once they do that, they get instant feedback on the assessment and that information is inputted into my master tracker (Instant Feedback and Mastery Tracker, 6l, s, t, v). Sometimes students may not succeed on the exit ticket, and I will reinforce the concept of the lesson by making it part of the catalyst (what I call my “warm-up drill”) the following day (Catalyst, 7f, l, q; 8p, s). This sort of adjustment is important and it helps students realize that it is okay to take time to come to terms with concepts. Once I provide them with reinforcement through flexible planning, they can succeed in my class.
The teacher must also provide students with multiple modes of expressing their understanding of the content. While I make use of exit tickets, that is one method and I must utilize others to ensure that I am meeting the needs of students who may struggle with multiple choice questions. Students can show their proficiency in many other ways including written products, oral presentations, or a created product (i.e. a PowerPoint presentation or the creation of a chemical compound). In my technology class, I wanted students to show their proficiency in developing a professional PowerPoint presentation. I decided to assign them a project that asked them to create a PowerPoint about themselves and the impact of their community on them. The rubric then outlined exactly what expectations I had for them for the PowerPoint itself, along with the content. The project was a good way for to see how their PowerPoint skills were progressing, and I learned a lot about my students (Community PowerPoint Presentation Rubric, 8a, k, l, m, n, o, q, r). Appealing to student interests and learning styles makes teaching purposeful, effective, and honestly, more exciting.
Even with different assessment methods, many times students are set-up to fail because they are not given equal access to content. Students are unique individuals and they do not all learn in the same fashion. The teacher must provide multiple modes of access to the content. This might include presenting information in written or visual form or having students engage in a laboratory experience. In chemistry class, laboratory experiences have been vital to helping students deal with abstract concepts. In chemistry, there is a section of the curriculum that expects students to understand the behavior of electrons and the effects of their excitation. This is something that happens at a microlevel and students have a hard time understanding how these micro-scale changes play out on a macro-scale. To help students with this concept, I set-up a Flame Test lab that asked students to subject various compounds with varying electronic configurations to a heat source which excites electrons resulting in the production of a distinct flame color. The distinct color allows for identification of unknown compounds, once the colors match. This gave students a practical application of the concept and it was more engaging than reading a lengthy explanation (Flame Test Lab, 8a, g, h, p). Sometimes labs are not appropriate for every learning situation. In those cases, I try to make available to students various modes of access to content. A given lesson in my class will have guided notes (Guided Notes Example, 8a, d, h, p), a graphic organizer (example: Converting Units Organizer, 8e, l, m) and exemplars (example: Community PowerPoint Exemplar Presentation, 8a, d, j) for students to use and reference. Students can use whichever tool they find the most helpful. This is also important for students with individualized education plans, that allows for them to make the use of aids to help them access content. In my lesson plans, I outline which students need such accommodations and I note the types of accommodations they are receiving in the class for that lesson (Lesson Plan IEP Example, 8c, h, q). Planning with all of these things in mind can be difficult, but it has paid off in terms of student engagement and achievement of desired outcomes.
Overall, purposeful planning is key to strong teacher practice. In order to plan well, teachers must receive feedback from students on their progress and they must adjust as needed. Lessons plans which align with the goals of the course must be engaging and provide access to content for all learners. Our students are unique, and that is okay. It is our job to help each of them succeed.