An angel glides through the halls of our predominately at risk environment. The school pays her to provide pregnancy related services (PRS) to enrolled young mothers. The school does not pay her to dedicate a portion of her inheritance to give these students books for their babies, which she does as well. She procures the books, and creates an elegant classroom display of first snatches of literature for the wee.
Yesterday, I walked a new mother into this ‘Books for Babies’ classroom. The plethora of options overwhelmed her. She gazed at one book then another. She carefully considered which picture book would best fit her month old son. I loved watching the new mother contemplate everything with such thoughtfulness. The mere energy that now all of her decisions bore grand weight tickled me with delight.
Then I made the suggestion, "Why don't you let him decide?"
She wrinkled her face in a customary ‘Ms. White is crazy grimace’. She humored me. While viewing the cover of the third book, the boy smiled. He had chosen.
Now, we, the educated, know that a combination of events could have taken place at the exact moment the parent displayed the book as an option for her child. The color scheme of the third book might have been more appealing than the previous two, or an instance of flatulence might have sparked the grin. We will never know, but we do know that he chose. As he will have many choices in his hopefully happy foundational life until he enters the doors of academia where the pickings are slim and plans aligned.
Or are they? Can we include students in the lesson planning process? I could suggest a 'modest proposal'. All novice teachers should first print out their state's curriculum the first week of school. Then assign portions to students, K-12, haphazardly in a lottery (because we love lotteries in education) fashion. Allow these students and to determine the execution of the lessons, and see how we fair during the accountability, appraisal and rating stages. In such a scenario we merely become moderators of a discipline, and not its teachers.
We can’t eliminate our own profession.
However, a precise, rhythmic promenade between students and teachers will ensure that the customers of education are heard, and that the curriculum be taught.
Welcome to a WALTZ in lesson planning.
· Watch your students.
· Ask your students.
· Listen to your students.
· Teach with your students.
Learners dispense tons of input through their actions. One can watch students in many ways. There is the typical observation with the eyes or of the eyes- when the lights come on. Then there is what’s behind their eyes.
Step one: Observe students. Turn around. What do you they like? Judge their mannerisms, their attire, even their gadgets? Are you in touch enough with the age group you are monitoring to tell? If you can’t see your students you can’t lead them.
It took me a long time to look up from the plan to the pumpkins. Months passed before I noticed a pertinent item of importance. More than fifty percent of my class had ear buds dangling from their collars. Adding music during ‘bell work’ affirmed them. When the music commenced, so did the work. Ringers had never been so peaceful.
Beneath the exteriors that we may get right only some of the time, behind the eyes- people process information differently. Incorporate dominant learning styles into your lessons. Insert active and reflective, sensing and intuitive, visual and verbal, sequential and global exercises into your planning. This is a quick start to student inclusion. Create a diverse learning style environment to recognize differences.
After viewing the curriculum information, brainstorm and research ways for: group work and independent work, real world applications and ‘big picture’ analysis, visual presentations and spoken explanations, and passage reading and passage skimming activities to take place.
When I first entered the classroom I recalled learning about sensory impact. I knew that if I were going to reach my students I needed to show representation of the main three: Tactile, Visual, and Auditory. But how, time wouldn’t permit?
A wise pedagogue instructed me to survey each class while the morning announcements ran. She asked me to ask the question: Are most of my students fidgeting with something in their hands, looking at the box from which the stream of information came, or leaning with their head cocked ear toward the speaker?
In this way teachers can summarize in a glance the dominant learning style is of the class. By marking these findings in the grade book (T, V, A), you can easily direct any lesson toward the class’ dominate sensory impact.
“Why don’t you let them decide?” Much like I asked the young mother, I ask you. “Why don’t you let them decide?” Step two: Ask the students.
The state designs the curriculum of what is to be covered in a school year, but you and your students can design the implementation. Focus on what needs to be learned. When looking at the essential knowledge and skills required, break up elements into smaller parts that contain all of the required components of the lesson. This can be done with all categories. Allow the students to decide either in whole group by vote or by individual choice which direction to go.
Each grading period, after studying biography snippets of authors, I have requested students to pick from one of five American authors in the year that familiarity with American authors was required.
My own children love when a teacher gives them choice. My son reports that one of his teachers offers him and his classmates the choice to either take notes or to devise games with the same information. According to him they don’t all choose the games.
My daughter’s teacher allows them the discretion to record notes in their own way. Note taking is now her favorite activity.
If one can not deviate from assignments taught, possibly ask the students with options available of what sort of extension activities could accompany a particular subject matter. Ensure to allow for technology utilization and creative artistic suggestions. As long as extension tools allow for the student to express skills being learned or already learned the tool is valid.
Begin each semester with a personal inventory. The questionnaire can include thoughtful questions to summarize student likes and dislikes. It can also retrieve information pertaining to home life and history. Students should affix this page near the front of their journals or notebooks and receive a 100 participation grade. When sitting down to plan, study their answers to assist with semester lesson planning.
A more orthodox version of asking is to pre-test students. They subtly show you what to include in your planning, by releasing what they know or what they don’t know. Begin school years, semesters, or even units with a good ole fashion pre-test. People don’t know what they don’t know. Pretest or pre assess can take a myriad of forms. A KWL graphic organizer or variation works just as well. What do you know? What do you want to know? What have you learned? Include students in your planning- even the ones with a small voice.
Listening to their answers is the third step. Many companies claim to abide by the mantra, ‘The customer is always right.’ We can make an assumption that businesses that use this philosophy listen to their customers. Our customers are our students, and they are right.
What have you learned from the Waltz’s W and A? Often we build many types of feedback into our design, but don’t use the feedback. Listen with grace.
In the listen step, add student input into the plan. Lesson plans can include the following:
· Curriculum’s Essential Skill
· Student Expectation
· Materials or Resources used
· Bell Work / Warm up Exercise
· Bloom’s Target
· Learning Style
· Sensory Impact
· Explicit Instructions / Active Student Participation
· Modification / Adaptation
From the watching and the asking, one needs to compile data and plug it in to the plan immediately. I have found that short answer data is more accurate in that actual student thought went into the answering, but all data will do.
In step four, teach. The classroom can be seen as a reciprocal environment. My rule: I will teach you, if you will learn. I’m responsible for the first, and you the later.
This type of planning doesn’t take much longer than the already extensive process. If target plans are already outlined the new information can be implemented easily. It often feels like a piecing together a puzzle. This goes here, and that there.
Prior to starting class, post the daily objective in the same place each day. Students can often refer to this note to stay on track and to prepare for the learning that they helped create, are responsible for receiving.
Design a schedule that allows for your many findings to at least be done within the week, if not daily. Having a time associated plan helps with this process, as do procedures. Students can be included in this creation as well. One student is assigned to keep me on time because the schedule is posted on the board. The student holds up a finger that means it’s time for the next item on the agenda. I have found the more that students share in the classroom responsibilities; the easier it is to manage the plan.
An educator with whom I discussed this piece entered my office and asked, “What’s the fifth step, the ‘Z’?”
“You know? The Zing!” I responded. She instantly knew.
The ‘Z’ stands for the ‘Zing’, the non tangible component, of this acronym that will allow you to let the zing ring. The zing is whirling engagement. The zing is when the pupils of pupils light. The zing is when the learners take responsibility, pride, and ownership for their learning. It seems that in order for students to become vested in their work and take responsibility of their learning, they must be included in the planning piece.
The moments of true content mastery look different in every classroom, but it should be seen. Results should show in assessments. Quality models of student success should be displayed on the walls of the classroom.
One school year I allocated a separate same sized bulletin board to each period. After grading each assignment I displayed quality work from the class. I marked an asterisk next to a student’s name when their fabulous work went on the board, to ensure that each person had an opportunity. The work executed became so quality the decisions became brutal. Students began to note mentions at the end of their turned work that their work was board worthy. Administration often toured my room with guests to display the boards. The boards allowed the student additional input into the lesson planning even after we completed the unit. The boards worked one year, a blog in another. Of course, the students decided where to display their work.
We can dance around the issue of accountability, rigor and best practices, but there is one thing for certain we can’t be successful teachers without students. Without their presence, buy in, and yes, input, we might as well change professions.