Sunday, January 31, 2010

Components of lesson plans

(REALLY long.)

 In the last year, I've blogged a lot about curriculum and lesson planning.  These are the hardest things for me to understand, I think, although every year, every week, I'm getting better at them.  (Classroom management isn't the hardest thing to understand--I get it.  I'm just not very good at doing it.)  Planning a good lesson, much less 5 good lessons, much less 5 good lessons a day for a week, is mind-bogglingly complicated and massively important. 

Planning a lesson is always an interesting trick.  In Robyn Jackson's outline, you start where your students are.  This takes into account their interests, their skills, their emotional needs, etc.  Then, you know where your students are going.  Again, that's Jackson's phrase, but Marzano says the same thing--the first part is learning goals.  We've been working hard at learning goals at our schools this year.  After you know what you want your students to learn, you break it down into steps.  (I think this is something that I'm only just starting to do since Winter Break.)  After that, you see through time in order to pick out the potential challenges--Billy will certainly have a bad day on Tuesday, he always does; I'll have a guest instructor on Friday, so I won't be able to teach anything new; et cetera. 

There's a lot to consider in there, and I'm starting to get a good enough feel for Learning Goals that I can start worrying a lot more about the efficacy of Learning Activities.  I was already pretty good at Learning Activities, and a lot of my training has been focused that way.  Learning Activities without a solid grounding in Learning Goals don't mean much, though.  Now I've got a much better handle on the Learning Goals (so when I rewrite my curriculum again this summer, I might finally have something to work with), so the more specific things are coming back up.

When I'm writing lesson plans, I want to know the students I'm teaching.  For every group of students, I want to know: 1.) what they're interested in; 2.) how they learn most effectively (or at least think they do); 3.) what they want to know about the topic at hand.  Having some idea as to how they react to certain stimuli is helpful, too.  For example, every time I utter 3 sentences of Spanish together, a number of my students want to know why they have to know Spanish at all.

While I'm designing learning goals, I need to make sure that I'm really writing learning goals and not communicative goals.  The difference is that my communicative goals outline a situation in which, if nothing weird happens, my students should be able to talk their way through.  Learning goals go more universal.  At the moment, this tends towards a comparison of that social situation in our society versus the society we're studying (Mexico, Spain, Ecuador, Argentina, Puerto Rico, whatever--there are of course sub-societies in those countries, of course), or even an examination of what that social situation means for the human condition.  It makes for more of an aspiration than a goal, but it's what we're working towards.

One of the things I'm trying to do when designing lesson plans is this--how am I going to model this?  How am I going to help them practice them?  How am I going to get them to practice without help?  How am I going to get them to do it?  The general phrase is--I do it, We do it, You do it.  (That's Kathleen Kryza's phrasing.) 

In the World Language world, there's a similar structure in communicative methodology theory.  You start with structured, comprehensible input--utterances in the target language that a student can nevertheless understand (using context clues, illustrations, acting or other things).  You have to check a student's comprehension for the language--yes/no, true/false, point-to type activities are usually what goes on here.  The students have to process the information and then respond to it, but their response doesn't require a huge language output.  Then, you move to structured output--there are only a limited number of responses, but the responses aren't formulaic or meaningless.  Then, you can go to more and more unstructured input.

Then, of course, the National and State Standards and Benchmarks prescribe the communicative modes--conversation, comprehension, and presentation.  And in living languages, there are two different vehicles of communication--oral/aural speech, and written/read texts.  So you have to work your way through the "structured input / structured output / less-structured output" assembly lines on both of those lines.  Not all of these things fit into a single day's lesson plan, but there should be some examples of all of them throughout the week.  Some of these things lend themselves better to different stages than others, of course--listening and reading comprehension are obviously much better structured-input activities.

Kryza's lesson plan structure is "Chunk, Chew, Check," and that method really helps me think about what each activity is meant to do.  It means that when I'm really, REALLY writing out my plans, for each of the above things, I write a "chunk"--what Marzano calls a "critical input experience"--a short bit of structured input (usually), either spoken or written--with a lot of examples of the vocabulary or grammar or culture I'm presenting, and a few non-examples that the students are generally already familiar with.  Then there's a "chew," something where the students have the opportunity to process what they've just heard or read, and have to react to it in some way.  And then there's a "check," where I see how well the students are doing and change instruction accordingly.  (Marzano calls this a "formative assessment.")  Mostly, like I alluded to, I focus on input activities, so I may be stiffing my students on practice time opportunities.  I make our practice activities count, though.

 Mix into this mix Gardener's multiple intelligence theory, the need to work culture into everything, a burgeoning realization of the importance of social justice as a component of Spanish instruction, and a disinclination by disposition to pay attention to details, and I begin to see why my struggle with lesson plans has taken up so much time.  It's likely to keep doing so for some time, but I finally feel like I have a usable document that covers most of the bases.  Have I ever written a complete plan?  Nope.  Has my plan ever gone off without a hitch?  Not even close.  All I know is that the more time I spend planning, the better on average the week goes for me.  So I keep doing it.

Update, 1 hour later:  And differentiation!  I forgot about differentiation!

Another book to read someday

Catching up or leading the way by Yong Zhao.  It examines the role of the American education system in the world.  The selling point seems to be this: as the US education system moves closer to that of the rest of the world, the rest of the world's education systems move closer to that of the US. 

My principal has told me a little bit about it.  I'd be interested to read the book, because the blurbs and the bullet points off of ASCD's website immediately raise my hackles.

Available here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

To my students

Thanks for stopping by!  If you plan on making it a habit, I'll write more student-friendly stuff.

You are, of course, welcome to read the diatribes on educational theory.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Progress report, January 2010

My Spanish classes still don't look like I think they should, and I feel like I've really lost focus on what matters to me as a teacher.  I'm getting bogged down in defining activities, reinforcing behavior, etc., and have let go the act of teaching Spanish.  Much more of my outside-of-class time should be spent planning units, designing learning activities, aligning assessments to learning goals, etc., and rather less spent designing school-wide and classroom behavior support systems.  The question I need to answer is: When my students are behaving the way I expect them to, and when I have everything planned out, what is it my students are actually doing?  And the corollary question--How do I get from where I am to that place?

The short version, of course, is that when the plans go as planned, the students are speaking Spanish.  All of my "more structure to class" activities are intended to make this easier to achieve.  When the students know what they're supposed to be doing all the time, the supposition goes, it won't matter what language I'm speaking to them in.  And more Spanish is more good.  Better.  You know.  Once classroom structures are in place, I continue to think, and once students know how to refer to them in Spanish, then it becomes easier to conduct everything else in Spanish.

What I think I'm missing, though, is two key pieces.  First, my students still see no reason to learn Spanish, so I have to give them a "why."   Second, of all the structures I've built and designed and stolen and taught, I'm not sure my students understand the process of learning a new language, so I have to give them a "how."  I know I do this all the time, but my students are almost universally frustrated by the process of learning new vocabulary, and forget it almost immediately.  They are not yet taking responsibility for their own learning, and I haven't yet figured out how to inspire them.

It feels like I keep tripping over this same dot on the floor.  Any thoughts?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year! Things done, and things yet to do

Well, that's 2009 down.  (In my mental calendar, it's not so much one year--2009--as half of SY 2008-09 and half of SY 2009-10.)  And as always, it's worth reflecting on the successes of the year.  In accordance with tradition, these reflections will take the form of a top ten list.


10.  I began my 4th year of teaching--I'm no longer officially a rookie!  Now, all I need is for my craft to show that.
9.  SY 2008-09 was our first full year of Positive Behavior Support.  The students have strong opinions about it.  Very strong.
8.  I modeled literary analysis for my sophomores by ripping Twilight a new one.  A good time was had by all.  (Later I made it clear that reading anything was better than reading nothing.)
7.  We've formed a professional learning community at school.  After 10 meetings, we're just about ready to stop complaining and get down to business.
6.  I wrote more on this blog last year than in the previous two years combined, and increased my readership by 50%.  Now 3 people read it.
5.  The professional development days.  SOOO many professional development days.  If I'd done this much work on applied behavior analysis in college, I'd have my minor in psychology.
4.  I reorganized my curriculum.  Again.  Only not really.  Again.  Still, it's better than it was, in the same way that a lean-to shed provides better protection from the elements than a pile of sticks.
3.  For the school's winter assembly, 5 of my co-workers and I walked like Egyptians, while 4 others showed off their entirely too-good Bangles impersonations.  Later research suggested that most Egyptians don't actually walk like that, and probably dance better.
2.  One of my students of bygone years--one of the ones I never thought liked my class very much-- came into my classroom wearing some amazing pajama pants.  He said to the class, "These are pantalones en español.  ¿Te gustan mis pantalones?"  Grinning from ear to ear, he waltzed back out.

And the number 1 moment of 2009 in school-related topics was.... (brrrrmmmmmm.....)

Working with the Amazing Staff and Oft-Imitated, Ne'er-Duplicated Students at our school.  You're the reason I keep getting out of bed at 5 AM, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Happy New Year, all!  (I'll leave the "things left to do" in the title for a later post.  I'm too busy doing some of them right now.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"So, what do you do in Spanish class?" (2 of 2)

Different kinds of activities and their educational value

This is a messy kind of post.  It's the blog post equivalent of tearing everything out of your closet and shelves and throwing it in heaps on your bed and on the floor, as you install a new closet shelving system and re-organize everything you've just been cramming anywhere they'd fit for the last 3 1/2 years.

The heaps I'm going to try to throw things in look like this:
A.)  Kind of activity.  These, hopefully, will be broad descriptions of the sorts of things we do in Spanish class.  Refinements to come as necessary.
B.)  Chunk, chew, or check?  Are these activities' primary value as a tool for presenting new information (chunk), as a way of processing or practicing information (chew), or as an assessment tool (check)?  This is directly from Kathleen Kryza's work on co-teaching (and, indirectly, differentiated instruction) with our ISD, and thus probably from one of the several books written by Kryza, Duncan, and Stevens.
C.) Outcome, engagement, and materials.  These are 3 of the 6 qualities from the last blog post.  The others are less activity-specific, so I shouldn't need to include them for each activity.

A.) PAIRED and SMALL-GROUP SPEAKING ACTIVITIES.  Examples: Information-gap activities, interviews, ask-and-answer sessions, etc.
Initial thoughts:  This is the kind of activity where my thinking most needs clarification.  I do these spontaneously all the time, and so they're probably the least structured.
B.) Chew [check].  Done with each other, they're definitely chew activities.  So they require some prep work first; namely, how and why to say what they're to be saying.
C.)  Outcome:  Students will have the experience of performing the communicative task.  In addition, some will result in new content knowledge, others will have a written element to them.  In the tasks that have no written or drawn component, an oral checkout of some kind becomes necessary.
Engagement:  Students are speaking in Spanish, trying out new words, asking questions, writing information as it becomes available or necessary.
Materials:  Teacher-provided handouts, self-generated information, paper, pencil, etc.

2A.) WRITING CONVERSATIONS.  Examples--passing notes, threaded on-line discussions (i.e., Moodle), instant messaging, text messages. 
Initial thoughts:  I have never, to my shame, done one of the technologically based activities.  The reasons for this include a lot of bad reasons involving time management and my capacity for building online classes. 
B.)  Chew (check).  Just like spoken conversations, these are mostly a chance for students to mount up on their new vocabulary and take it out for a test drive.  It can also be used as a formative assessment--I would hesitate to use it as a summative assessment, though.

More of this in a future post.  I know it says 2 of 2 in the title, and need to be getting on with my day, but I'm not done with the topic, so more to come.