Since the day I started teaching I have taken on the job of creating a lesson plan for each and every classroom. I know there are those of you out there who have never been asked to do so before, but I hope to show you that it doesn’t have to be a chore. When you do it though, you have to be prepared for the fact that you need to plan in advance, or you will end up with a lesson plan that isn’t practical for your students. I hope to show you how to create lesson plans that will ensure every lesson you teach is well-researched, challenging, and relevant.
The purpose of this blog post is to help educators find that balance between quality lesson plans and quality lesson preparation. When you are teaching a class or presenting a lesson, a balance needs to be struck that provides a good lesson for your students, and prepares you to deliver that lesson.
How do you plan?
Here are some of the questions I think we need to answer
Do you plan every day? On a weekly basis? A ?
How often do you adjust your plans for the future based on formative results?
How often is the manual the source of the plan? What percentage of the plan is taken directly from the textbook?
To what extent are you free to plan your own courses/sections/lessons?
How often is the district’s curriculum and/or lesson plan mentioned in your own planning?
How detailed are your plans?
What role do templates and checklists play in your planning?
What do you think is the best way to prepare for the event to get the best results?
To what extent should the planning process ideally be mandatory or at least recommended?
Comprehension and understanding
Typical plans focus too much on fragmented daily lessons and activities on single topics, rather than developing coherent plans that assume long-term outcomes. The result is a colossus called a cover.
More subtly, many plans focus too much on what the teacher and students will do, rather than developing a plan for specific outcomes and changes in skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Surprisingly, in many plans student involvement is not a central aspect of the design. Most plans have no plan B. Many plans have no plan B if plan A doesn’t work. And even more people don’t plan, knowing full well that mistakes and unevenness are to be expected.
The value of the model is qualified. It was for these and other reasons that Jay McTighe and I wrote the book Understanding Design 14 years ago. We have clearly reached the goal. The book is in its 2nd printing. More than a million copies have been sold and used worldwide, and more than 150 educational institutions use the book to teach teachers how to write units. Over the years, countless people have thanked us for our help in creating a thoughtful and disciplined schedule.
However, Jay and I never intended for our model to become an obligatory act of pointless routine, an obligatory task imposed by mindless bosses. Jay and I never wanted people to focus on filling their inboxes. Jay and I have never advocated using the UbD unit model as a course planner. In our new lesson planning books, we emphasize this point throughout the unit. You can download an extract here: Mod O is about lesson plans (excerpt).
We hardly treated our own model as a sacred and untouchable icon. We have modified it 4 times in the last 14 years, giving examples where different features of the model have been emphasized or omitted. In short, it was not our intention to force teachers into a planning straightjacket. Unfortunately, some mandate-driven leaders are currently lumping all teachers together.
On the contrary, like any other tool, the model should be a useful tool, a mental control. The idea of a good checklist is essential. Atul Gawande has written extensively about how a pre-flight checklist in medicine, modelled on the checklist used in the cockpit of every aircraft, has saved lives. Here’s an article about his ability to save lives.
Value of educational planning models
A curriculum model can save an intellectual life, we think. By forcing reflection on big ideas, emphasizing transfer as a goal, worrying about whether goals and assessments are aligned, and asking questions about predictions of misunderstandings and learning difficulties, Template keeps the focus on important design issues that risk being lost in conventional planning when teachers think too lightly about the content that should be covered.
Years ago, a history professor at Notre Dame who worked with college professors in the Lee Schulman Scholarship of Teaching program said: I can’t use the model. This is so, so high school!
I replied: Do you like planning questions in boxes?
He said yes.
So ignore the pattern and think about the questions, I said.
Oh, he said, I can do that.
Scheduling issues. Here are the current elements of the UbD model, formulated as questions to generate ideas and review your design plan.
14 questions every teacher should ask about the lesson plan
- Summary: What do you want students to be able to do with the content?
- What content standards and program/mission objectives are addressed in this section?
- What are the mindsets that facilitate research, reflection and knowledge transfer?
- What exactly are you trying to teach the students? What conclusions should they draw from this? What misconceptions are predictable and need to be overcome?
- What basic facts and concepts should students know, remember, and be able to apply over time?
- What skills and discrete processes should they be able to apply independently, guided by their common sense?
- What criteria are used in each evaluation to determine whether the desired results have been achieved?
- Which evaluations provide credible evidence for the objectives?
- What other evidence will you collect to determine if the objectives have been met?
- How will you conduct pre-evaluation and formative evaluation? If necessary, how will you make adjustments (based on feedback)?
- Does the training plan reflect training principles and best practice?
- How can you fully engage all participants and keep them interested throughout the session?
- How can the plan be adapted in the light of recent findings (and taking into account the current needs and interests of pupils)?
- Are objectives, assessments and learning outcomes clearly aligned?
References to research in the field of planning :
Zahorick, John A. Leadership in education, 33, 2, 134-9, November 75.
Links to sample lessons and activities :
Design models November 2012.v2
Sample letter from the UbD 2011-12
Editor’s comment: Grant Wiggins is at 26. Passed away in May 2015. Grant has had a major impact on TeachThought’s approach to education, and we welcome his contribution to our website. From time to time we will go back and share his most memorable messages. Fortunately, his company, Authentic Education, is continuing and expanding Grant’s work.
14 questions every teacher should ask about lesson plans
Frequently Asked Questions
What questions you want to ask about this lesson?
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What questions should I ask my principal about lesson planning?
What are the goals of your school? What is the curriculum for this grade level? How many minutes per day do you have to plan lessons? What are the expectations for students? What are the expectations for teachers? What are the expectations for parents? What is your school’s philosophy on grading? What are the expectations for students? What are the expectations for teachers? What are the expectations for parents? What is your school’s philosophy on grading?
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