Once you’ve been a professional educator for a few years, your toolbox gets pretty crammed with strategies/initiatives/systems/foci. As a middle-school science teacher at a brand-new single-gender public leadership academy, I am expected to integrate each of the following into my lessons:
- Math skills
- Cooperative learning
- Differentiated instruction
- Best practices for teaching boys
- Formative assessment
- Global awareness
- Problem-based learning
- Leadership development
Now, I recognize that many of these overlap and it is both feasible and advisable to plan lessons that address multiple items from the list above. But, that doesn’t lessen the stress of trying to keep all of these balls juggling in the air. It is a real challenge that is shared by all teachers.
I look at these elements as spices that good teachers use to turn simple lesson plans into more effective and engaging ones. And, as any experienced chef knows, the best dishes have just the right amount and mix of spices. The key, learned through training and experience, is which spices work well with which dishes and other spices.
Lest you believe that I’m only writing to gripe about the challenges of my chosen career, let me explain. Following in the footsteps of my friend and like-minded colleague, Russ Goerend, who has written several posts about his “workflow“, I have a solution. Er, a partial solution. It’s not elegant or sophisticated. It’s not digital or electronic. But, it’s inexpensive and simple.
I maintain index cards with ideas on them, like pre-reading strategies and cooperative learning structures, that I keep organized by type. In a small index card box, I have color-coded sections for reading, inquiry, group work, tech tools, etc. Each section has cards that list the name of the tool/technique and a short description of how it works. If I have the time, I try to write the source from which I learned about the tool. The box actually resembles a recipe box, keeping our little metaphor going.
When I sit down to plan lessons, tweak old lessons, or shift gears in class, I pull out the box and sift through the cards. I try to put a card at the back of the section after I use it, encouraging me to try new things. If something doesn’t work, I pull the card and try to take a closer look at a later time. When it does work, I still put it at the back of the section because using the same spices over and over again gets boring.
This method forces me to remember all of the different initiatives competing for my focus everyday, while also maintaining enough variety to engage my students (and myself) full-time in the learning taking place in my classroom. Just the right amount of the just the right spices.
How do you manage lesson planning priorities?