One of the most important responsibilities for a teacher is the planning of instruction. Planning instruction provides direction, provides assessment guidelines, and conveys instructional intent to students and supervisors.
Planned instruction for grades 7-12 in any academic discipline, however, is met with everyday challenges. There are distractions within the classroom (cell phones, classroom management behavior, bathroom breaks) as well as the external distractions (PA announcements, outside noises, fire drills) that often interrupt lessons. When the unexpected happens, even the best planned lessons or most organized plan books can derail. Over the course of a unit or a semester, distractions can cause a teacher to lose sight of the goal(s) of a course.
So, what tools can a secondary teacher use to get back on track?
To counter the many different interruptions in the execution of lesson plans, teachers need to keep in mind three (3) simple questions that are at the heart of instruction:
- What thing(s) will the students be able to do when they leave the classroom?
- How will I know the students will be able to do what was taught?
- What tools or items are needed for me to accomplish the task(s)?
These questions can be made into a template to use as a planning tool and added as an appendix to lesson plans.
Instructional Planning in Secondary Classrooms
These three (3) questions can also help secondary teachers to be flexible, since teachers may find they may have to modify lesson plans in real time for a specific course period by period. There may be different academic levels of students or multiple courses within a particular discipline; a math teacher, for example, may teach advanced calculus, regular calculus, and statistics sections in one day.
Planning for daily instruction also means that a teacher, regardless of content, is required to differentiate or tailor instruction to meet individual student needs. This differentiation recognizes the variance among learners in the classroom. Teachers use differentiation when they account for student readiness, student interest, or student learning styles. Teachers can differentiate the academic content, the activities associated with the content, the assessments or end products, or the approach (formal, informal) to the content.
Teachers in grades 7-12 also need to account for any number of possible variations in a daily schedule. There may be advisory periods, guidance visits, field trips/internships, etc. Student attendance can also mean a variation in plans for individual students. The pace of an activity can be thrown off with one or more interruptions, so even the best lesson plans need to account for these minor changes. In some cases, a lesson plan may need an on the spot change or maybe even a complete rewrite!
Because of differentiation or variations to schedules that mean real time adjustments, teachers need to have a quick planning tool that they can use to help adjust and refocus a lesson. This set of three questions (above) can to help teachers at minimum the means to check to see they are still delivering instruction effectively.
Use Questions to Refocus Daily Plans
A teacher who uses the three questions (above) either as a daily planning tool or as a tool for adjustment may also need some additional follow-up questions. When time is removed from an already tight class schedule, a teacher can choose some of the options listed beneath each question in order to salvage any pre-planned instruction. Moreover, any content area teacher can use this template as a tool to make adjustments to a lesson plan-even one that is partially delivered- by adding the following questions:
What thing(s) will the students still be able to do when they leave the classroom today?
- If this was planned as an introductory lesson, what will students be able to explain what was taught with assistance?
- If this was planned as an ongoing lesson, or a lesson in a series, what will students be able to explain independently?
- If this was planned as a review lesson, what will students be able to explain to others?
How will I know the students will be able to do what was taught today?
- Can I still use a question/answer session at the end of class where I check comprehension?
- Can I still use an exit slip quiz question with day's lesson content or problem to receive feedback from students?
- Can I still assess through a homework assignment that is due the following day?
What tools or items are needed for me to accomplish the task(s) today?
- What necessary texts are still available for this lesson and how do I still make these available for students? (textbooks, trade books, digital links, handouts)
- What necessary tools are still available to present the information? (whiteboard, Powerpoint, SmartBoard, projection and/or software platform)
- What other resources (websites, recommended reading, instructional videos, review/practice software) can I still provide to students as support for what I am teaching?
- What kinds of communication (assignment posts, reminders) can I still leave for students to keep pace with the lesson?
- If something goes wrong with the tools or items needed, what backups do I have?
Teachers can use the three questions and their follow-up questions in order to develop, to adjust, or to refocus their lesson plans on just what is important for that particular day. While some teachers may find the use this set of questions particularly useful every day, others might use these questions infrequently.