Standard 3: Planning
Meeting Standard 3:
"The student teacher's lesson plans are carefully written and detailed, noting content and skills objectives, describing activities, and noting special learning and diversity needs where appropriate. Lessons exhibit clearly focused, sensible connections from one to the next, and are designed to promote construction of knowledge by students. The student teacher takes time to explain lesson objectives to students and, using a variety of strategies, checks that students are clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it."
- Brown University Teacher Education Handbook
A few days before classes began, I wrote the following in my journal: With the start of Brown Summer High School around the corner but not yet upon us, it seems like the only thing we have been able to do so far is plan, plan, plan. It had never occurred to me before now how much thought and reflection goes into planning, before any teaching even takes place. The philosophy of "backwards design" upended the intuitive notions I had about planning anything, but it instantly makes a lot of sense to know your destination before you know the route you should best take.
Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design speaks about "the twin sins of traditional design": activity-oriented design (where students are engaged in fun activities but learn little real content) and the coverage approach (a whirlwind tour of the course material, often to get students through a massive amount of content in time for standardized exams). Having experienced both sins in my former schooling and teaching, I came into this program hoping to find a third, balanced approach, one that is at once engaging, relevant, substantive, and promoting of lasting understanding.
It turns out that much of what it takes lies in thoughtful, methodical planning. Thinking both forwards and backwards is necessary, because every lesson must be designed with the eventual learning outcomes and assessments in mind (so that both teachers and students know what the objectives of the lesson are and have an idea of what steps must be taken to reach them), but it is delivered such that students are engaged from the start and see the connections between new content and familiar concepts. The 5E learning-cycle model is a useful model for how an inquiry-based lesson should proceed, with an emphasis on hooking and exploring at the beginning, followed by explanation and opportunities to apply new concepts in order to cement understanding, and concluded by assessment opportunities that illuminate whether any concepts need to be revisited.
One of the most interesting things I learned about planning is how constant assessment is a key aspect of any lesson plan, including assessment that occurs before the lesson to get a sense of how students might connect to the new concepts, and assessment that is ongoing during instruction so that there is constant feedback about the students’ progress. During planning, I also found it important to anticipate the varying needs of students and build in differential-instruction methods such as teacher or peer modeling, visual organizers, and group work.
Experience (the best teacher of all) taught me a few more things to keep in mind. First of all, I should know the answer to every question being asked and be able to explain it. Seems simple, perhaps, but in the crunch of preparing lessons and materials, sometimes the little details got overlooked. Secondly, I should anticipate questions that students will likely ask and be prepared to respond to them. Thirdly, I should always prepare a script for myself so that I don't forget important prompts and points during a presentation or discussion. And lastly, I should always make sure that the necessary supplies are present and functional. The day where we asked students to attach a prompt to their journals, before promptly running out of tape, staples AND glue, will live on in my memory as one not to be repeated.