When you plan instruction thoughtfully, you will enjoy teaching more. At the beginning of the year, find your starting point. Then plan in broad strokes (long-range planning) and smaller strokes (unit planning). Finally, kick it into action with powerful daily lesson plans.
Ms. Sneed Learns Long-Term Lesson Planning Strategies
As a first year teacher, Ms. Sneed didn’t know where to begin. When her principal announced that student starting points were due in two weeks, she panicked. Fortunately, her mentor, offered to help her.
When they sat down for their weekly meeting, Mrs. Brown reviewed her philosophy of teaching.
“As I’ve said before, you must first learn to survive in this profession. To accomplish that, you need to get organized, plan, and keep a good life-work balance. After that, PD and powerful instruction lead to master teaching.”
A small smile crossed her face. Mrs. Brown loved to talk about six steps to enjoy teaching. But the message was not lost on her.
Plan Instruction Around Standards and Student Starting Points
Next, the mentor opened her laptop. “To plan instruction, you need to consider your standards, your students, and your annual assessments. Let’s start with this eight-minute video.”
When the video ended, Ms. Sneed sighed. “Okay, I see how that works. But it seems time-consuming.”
“I won’t sugar-coat it,” her mentor replied. “It is. However, we will work as a team to accomplish this. Right now, I just want you to understand the process.”
Three stacks of paper sat in front of Mrs. Brown. She slid the first stack of papers to Ms. Sneed. “The standards provide a road map that describes where you’re going and what you’ll need to do along the way. Every time we sit down to plan instruction, we’ll refer to these standards. Keep them out. You will refer to them often.”
She slid the second stack of papers over. “Student assessment data help you figure out where to begin and how quickly to travel. In the next few weeks, you’ll administer several assessments. These will help us determine your classroom starting points.”
Finally, Mrs. Brown slid the third stack to Ms. Sneed. “These are the dates of our standardized assessments. We will work backward from these dates to determine what we need to teach when.
“Keep this in mind. We’ll use broad strokes to create long-range plans. From there, we’ll use small strokes to complete unit and lesson plans. Both are important.
“Read over this information tonight. Tomorrow we’ll start with unit plans.”
Plan Instruction in Small Strokes for Complete Unit Plans
When Ms. Sneed entered the classroom the next day, Mrs. Brown was already seated with a laptop in front of her. “Before we begin working on long-term lesson planning strategies,” she said, “you need to get a taste of unit plans.”
The mentor pointed to the screen of her laptop. “The first step,” she said, “is to deconstruct, or unwrap, your standard. You probably learned about this process in your university courses.”
Ms. Sneed nodded.
“In this example,” Mrs. Brown continued, “a standard is broken into three parts: nouns, verbs, and extra guidance. Nouns provide the content, and verbs offer processes. Most of the other words guide our lesson planning.”
Next, Mrs. Brown displayed a second image with the same standard. “Now we’re ready to scaffold our lesson plans. Using the best tool we have – our brains – we consider background knowledge kids will need. Additionally, we prepare a step-by-step process that will take kids to mastery of the standard.”
Ms. Sneed stared at the list. “Wow,” she said, “you really need to plug the holes. It will take me a while to have this much insight into how kids learn a concept.”
At that, Mrs. Brown smiled gently. “In the meantime, you can rely on your colleagues.”
Use the Textbook as a Resource
“Unfortunately,” Mrs. Brown continued, “no textbook on God’s green earth addresses the standards this thoroughly. Therefore, we must use the adopted curriculum as a resource. In other words, the textbook is only one source for our activities. Additionally, we pull resources from online and create our own.”
“Of course, as we plan, we also look for opportunities to differentiate instruction. To reach each we teach, we may need to alter the content, process, or product.”
Noticing Ms. Sneed’s wide eyes, she added, “But that will be a topic for another day. That’s enough for today.”
Plan Instruction in Broad Strokes for Long-Range Planning
The next time they met, Mrs. Brown once again sat in front of her computer. “Want to know one thing I’ve learned in all my years of teaching? Long-range lesson planning changes all the time. For example, the standards may change. Additionally, student starting points differ. Furthermore, resources constantly change. We may get new textbooks or download new material.”
She motioned to her screen, and Ms. Sneed looked on.
“Our grade-level team created a grid that showed when they planned to teach each standard for reading, writing, language, math, science, and social studies. In addition, they looked for ways to integrate opportunities for speaking and listening. “This is our rough draft,” said Mrs. Brown. “Surely it will change with our students’ needs.”
“As you learned in the video, we strategically organize units of study to make interdisciplinary connections. Prerequisite skills are scheduled at the beginning of the year. Those that apply and extent can be found in the third and fourth quarters.”
As Ms. Sneed studied their long-range planning, her eyes glowed. This type of strategic, long-term lesson planning intrigued her.
As the year went on, the young teacher’s lesson plans filled with scaffolded instruction. And week by week, she became a more confident teacher.