Thursday, December 20, 2012

Crafting Lesson Plans

Many teachers struggle with the line between crafting good lessons plans and staying spontaneous in the classroom--whether or not to allow students' needs to dictate the lesson.

Having gone through the DeLeT program, we are, of course, huge proponents of constant reflective practice.  Therefore, having reflected, we've gotten into a groove of lesson planning that works for us.

Step One: Big Picture

We pretty much follow Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design process--starting with the enduring understandings, essential questions, and assessment, then working our way backwards to the lesson plans. 

We do a unit overview for each unit that includes these bigger picture items and then get into the meat of the lesson planning.

Click here for access to any of our unit overview pages for U.S. history; please understand that these are, as always, works in progress. We would love any constructive feedback anyone has for us.

Step Two: Smartboard

We are lucky enough to work in a school that has Smartboards installed in every classroom; this is, of course, not the case for everyone. Smartboard software is great for scripting out lesson plans because it allows for a screen-shade to hide and then reveal parts of a lesson on a single page.  Another collaborator we worked with to craft these units and lessons (giving credit here to Aaron Brock for helping to craft this U.S. history curriculum) scripted these lessons out in Powerpoint for use in his classroom.

We script our lessons out on Smartboard software because it allows us to stay on track--unless we purposefully decide to take the lesson in another direction for clarification purposes or student need.

Another MAJOR advantage of scripting lessons out is that students are able to see the question that is being asked, as well as hearing it. Teachers don't have to turn their backs on students to write directions out on the board and don't have to remind students of what question they are meant to be discussing over and over. We have found this to be incredibly helpful with all students, but obviously most for students who have auditory processing challenges.

A usual lesson will contain an anticipatory set that is usually constructivist in nature (not always of course)--something that will get students' attention, activate prior knowledge, and give a thematic taste of the lesson's contents.  Then, the meat of the lesson is scripted out using the Smartboard software. A copy of a "normal" lesson can be found here.

Our lessons tend to be experiential and collaborative; students work together to uncover information. The teacher is not seen as the source of information, but rather a facilitator.

The lesson ends with some kind of closure: a discussion, reflective writing, exit cards etc. in order to assess and wrap-up the day's concepts. The closure, as with the rest of the lesson, is scripted out so that any directions the students are following,  or questions the students are answering are right there.

Lessons are always scaffolded so that the smaller parts of the unit come together for the larger assessment at the end; it is the goal that each lesson is a smaller piece in the larger unit puzzle. This culminates in the unit assessment.

Step Three: Haiku

Our middle school utilizes the Haiku Learning Management Program (more about the benefits of that later) in order to convey course material to students, and to provide a platform for in class and out of class interactions.  As such, all of our course materials that are intended for students (lessons, handouts, directions, readings, images, videos, links, etc.) are found on our course Haiku page.

This allows for students to review lessons, activities, or catch up due to absence.

As the UBD overviews are not for students, they are not made available for them to see.

Step Four: The Purple Notebook

For such big proponents of tech, our method of reflection is decidedly "old school." There is a purple notebook on Shara's desk in our shared classroom where we write changes that we need to make to the lessons based on what went well, what didn't, etc.

From past experience, we have learned that it is vitally important to be as specific as possible when explaining to your future self what changes you want to make.  Too often we have been flummoxed as to what we meant by "change the rubric" or such vague entries, that we were, at the time, so sure were self-explanatory.

There are so many parts to lesson planning processes that we left out of this post; it was getting too long as it was. The factors that go into crafting units and lessons are innumerable; please let us know if there is any point we can expound upon or clarify!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Motivates Teachers?

Our most recent article in Education Week Teacher discusses teacher motivation. Teachers are motivated by more than money; how can school communities support teachers to keep them sufficiently motivated?

Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pedagogy Whiplash: When 'Best Practices' Conflict
Check out our new article published in EdWeek. It deals with conflicting trends in education, and how to navigate them as teachers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Teachers and Administrators, Don’t Be Scared of Technology: It Won’t Replace the Classroom

By: Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters

Last year, our principal posed this question to our faculty: “Can we be rendered obsolete by online learning?” 

The Khan Academy was receiving widespread attention for propagating the idea of an online learning experience for younger students. There was a general fear among school administrators and teachers in the K-12 education community that this could become an exclusively online learning system; that a computer could replace a teacher, and an “online learning environment” could replace a classroom. 

Could an online learning system replace a classroom? Yes, it could. Will it? Most definitely not.

The skills that are valued in education today, as opposed to ten years ago, require students to be able to do something with raw information. Students, in order to compete in this highly dynamic world, should be able to collaborate with others in order to create, synthesize, interpret, and evaluate information. These skills are not taught by rote learning alone, but rather are learned through discovery, inquiry, and exploration. Many of these skills cannot be successfully taught through an application or website, but must be experienced in class and facilitated by a teacher.

The Internet has changed society’s definition of a knowledgeable person. As recently as the beginning of the 21st century, educated people were those who knew a great deal of information about one or many subjects. Now, many of us carry smartphones in our pockets. The actual worth of being full of information has, as a result of this accessibility, gone down a great deal. In this “Age of Information,” access to facts and data is no longer available only to the educated elite, but is available to anyone with an Internet connection. So, as a society, what is an “educated person”? What value does that person have? What information really matters, and what has been reduced to the level of trivia?

This is where the classroom comes in. A classroom is not a virtual dictionary or lecture hall where students can receive isolated pieces of information, but rather a place where students can learn how to distill and discern the value of the information they find on the Internet, as well as analyze bias, evaluate content, and construct their own knowledge.

Students need to be able to work with other students to come to these new understandings. In the classroom, the collaborative process is preparing our students to contribute to our economy that is now based more on service and face-to-face interactions than the manufacture of goods (as was the case fifty years ago.) This is the case regardless of the socioeconomic level of the school and its ability to access technology. Because of this shift, in today’s world we have to be literate in the collaborative process.

While online learning has become prevalent in college environments, for K-12 education, it is simply not sufficient. As John Dewey (2002) states, “When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community...we shall have the deepest and best guaranty of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious.” (p.124) Online learning has created more opportunities for colleges to convey information to students, but the education of younger students requires much more than the conveyance of information. Instead this burden of education includes the preparation of the student for interaction in our larger society.

Just like many other online learning tools, this exclusively online classroom idea can have its place. When Wikipedia first became commonly used, there was concern that it would be an academically unreliable source, and many educators banned its use by students. There is value to Wikipedia: it is a helpful tool in research as a jumping-off point to obtain further information. Similarly, we would be imprudent in completely discounting the value of learning sites like Khan Academy. When students need to reinforce certain skills, these online learning tools can be very helpful. Proponents of Khan Academy laud it for its ability to ensure that each student is held accountable for their own learning, and that certain skill reinforcement is not overlooked in the efforts of keeping up with the pace of the class. If education was simply about skill reinforcement, then this model might actually be a substitute for the traditional classroom; we as teachers know that skills are simply one facet of a well-rounded education. 

While technology cannot replace a classroom, teachers would be remiss if they did not take advantage of the multitude of ways in which technological advances can help them further improve their craft. Now, teachers do not have to spend as much time teaching their students facts to memorize, and can devote more precious class time to engaging with the material on a level that requires students to think critically. Technology is a vehicle that makes this possible.

Effective teachers have been guiding students toward reaching deep and meaningful understandings of content for generations; teachers and their contributions are an invaluable part of the education system. It would be just as misguided to assume that teachers can be replaced by technology as it would be to assume that in today’s world, teaching can exist without technology. These ideas are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive. In the classroom, there must be a marriage of interaction, collaboration, and technology.

For example, our students used Skype to speak with a state assemblyman; though this face-to-face interaction occurred through a computer screen, students were able to have an educational experience that would not have been possible otherwise. The alternative, letter-writing, would not have as much of an impact on the students. While all interactions should not be conducted by means of technology, its purposeful supplemental use can revolutionize learning experiences without sacrificing that which we hold dear about education.

Teachers’ skills must improve along with technological advances. While every year, new technologies are touted as indispensable classroom tools, only some will be worthwhile for actual use in the classroom. We teach our students critical thinking and evaluative skills; we need to apply those discerning skills to the multitude of technological tools we have the option of implementing in our classrooms. 

Just because an educational tool isn’t perfect does not mean it should be disregarded. Just because an online classroom does not replace the role of a teacher doesn’t mean that this learning tool has no educational merit. Though there are thousands of technological tools that help enhance instruction, it doesn’t mean that teachers will be rendered obsolete.

Works cited:

Dewey, J. (2002). The school and society: The child and the curriculum. Chicago, Illinois:    University of Chicago Press. (Originally published 1915)