Sunday, October 18, 2009

Driving test on the redesigned lesson plans

I've now sketched up three unit plans in the format I described in my last blog entry--two for Spanish II, and one for MS/HS Spanish I.  I also differentiated it for a 6th grade class, in which we cover a lot of the same "immigration" materials.  (Once I get the unit plans down onto paper, and curricula written and aligned to standards, articulating the curricula is on the agenda.  Which makes it an action item over the summer of 2011.)  I've written 3 weekly plans for Spanish II, based on the unit plans, and 2 weekly plans for Spanish I.  This provides a place to start thinking about how well it's going, I think.

So far, having an overarching plan really helps clarify my thinking, and it makes it much easier to decide what's important about an activity and what's not.  This means that when reality happens, as it so often does, I have a much better idea of what part of a lesson plan I can jettison to account for, say, 25 minutes of grade-A teenage emotionally-driven angst.  (Not all at once, of course, nothing I'd feel comfortable kicking anyone out of class for.  It was just a constant drone.  As I'm sure it was for the students involved.)  Or having to re-establish, review, and re-teach respectful classroom behavior.  Again.  It's much easier now to make snap decisions--"Give 3 examples of ways Hispanic Americans come to live in the United States--" and what can wait for another day, lesson, or year--"Why do such a high percentage of Cuban Americans live in Miami?  En español, por favor"--in order to accommodate the limited time and frequent de-railings of a class.  (I'm still working on keeping on task all the time, too, but "big picture" ideas are helping me identify what "on task" and redirection skills I need to develop.  That's another blog post.)

Having an overarching picture helps write the weekly plan, too, but the translation isn't flawless.  In an ideal practice, my unit plan would contain all of the assessments, all of the practice activities, all of the guideposts that my students will pass along the way to doing whatever it is they're supposed to be doing--comparing baseball in Puerto Rico to baseball in the United States, for example.  What I'm finding is that when I write the unit plan, I'm only including some of the learning activities.  The daily lesson plan contains many more learning activities per learning goal, they're divided up a little bit differently, and they're still based in large part on the book.

In fact, one of my great weaknesses remains a dependency on my textbook to guide instruction.  For example, I just finished writing the next unit outline, about weather.  We're going to review what students know about weather systems in Spanish; talk about how to dress appropriately for weather around the word; examine weather in Michigan, Puerto Rico, Spain, and various locations in South America; and try to find some patterns based on the information we get.  For reasons that are not immediately obvious, the book contains a lesson on direct object pronouns.  This grammatical construction doesn't tie into any of our learning goals directly.  There's no reason to use it in terms of most weather conversations.  Sure, it's useful when talking about clothing and other kinds of stuff, but the book contorts itself pretty heavily to make it work.  As I'm going from the unit plan to the weekly plan, the unit plan doesn't say anything about direct object pronouns.  But the students need to know them before they can do indirect object pronouns.  (I believe they do, anyway.  Maybe it's more accurate to say that I need them to know DOP's before I know how to teach them IOP's.)  So what wins?  The less-book-based (but still book-influenced) unit plan I presumably wrote all by myself, like a big boy, or the text book?  (Have I written any "evils of textbook thinking" posts recently?  We're probably due). 

In this instance, the book wins--I'm going to teach direct object pronouns.  And I'm going to revisit the unit plan to see that the gratuitous grammatical structure makes it in there.  Hopefully, I can figure out a way to make it more obvious why it's there, and integrate it better into the "big question" learning goals.

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