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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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