Sunday, January 24, 2016

Here Lies A Great Lesson

We've all know those teachers that have their lesson plans set in stone from year to year. I met one once while I was still student teaching that had a ledger filled with his lecture notes, discussion questions, etc. He would open the book at the beginning of the period, read through as much as they could get in a period, replace the bookmark and close it to repeat the next day. Rumor was he was still using the same curriculum he had "perfected" 30 years prior. He also napped during his prep period; obviously he had this teaching thing figured out.

Hopefully if you're here you aren't "that teacher" and you are probably continuously adjusting your curriculum. Big or small changes, for me at least lesson planning is eternal. Sometimes I have to decide which lesson will bring the most benefit to my students for their time. Which fits their current understanding? Which will help solidify that one concept they just haven't completely grasped? Those are the good choices, when you can look at a plethora of material and have the luxury of cherry picking the best of the best for your students.

More recently though my choices have been made for me by outside forces. Sometimes I don't have the equipment or materials but more often the resource lacking is time. It takes time to help students truly understand concepts. Strange concept, right? Sometimes we run short on days in a unit as we back up to a vacation or there is a rally or a minimum day or what has been all too frequent lately, a bomb threat. Or if students don't understand the concept a single day's lesson plan can become two, or even three. You might find yourself crossing off the things you don't get to do. When I make that lesson plan edit that pushes a great activity off for another year I can't help but be sad.

Wallowing in your grief, ("This would have been SO great!" [sniffle]) doesn't help your students. So how do you make the best of the bad situation? Here are some tips, not all will fit every situation, you'll have to make another choice. ;)

1. Trim the fat. You mean you want me to cut MORE? It seems counterintuitive but cutting out unnecessary activities can help you carve out enough time to fit in the lesson you really wanted to do. Maybe they only need five practice problems not ten? My filing cabinets are full of activities that used to be my favorites; until I made better favorites.

2. Push it all back. If you have fat you can trim in a later unit, mentally take some of those days and push your current unit back so you can do the lesson you wanted to do. This can have a runaway effect though, and you find you really run out of time at the end of the term.

3. Adjust the format. Can your activity be done in groups instead of individually? In class instead of at home or visa versa? If you can adjust the format of a unit you might be able to fit it in in place of another. There was a recent post about a 20 minute format of a lesson. Sometimes shorter is sweeter if it means your students actually get to do it.

4. Save it for next year. I make notes on my lesson plans about the activities I didn't have time for, especially if I've already got copies made. If you don't make yourself a reminder where you'll see it at the beginning of the unit, you may run into the same issue.

5. Built in review, anyone? Depending on the activity it may help students review those concepts later on be it end of unit or end of semester. Why not use it to review concepts or practice when students need it before a large assessment?

Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Being disappointed that you didn't get to do an activity is one of the weird parts about teaching. I pout a bit thinking that I have to wait a whole year before I get to actually do it. Its a good thing we get a fresh start every year, another trip around the sun!

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