Lessons You Should Be Teaching in Your Classroom – NOW!
Think about your lesson plans. Do you know what you are teaching tomorrow? How about next week? Next quarter?
If you are like me, your county provides very little planning time. Local teachers start a week before students, but the district schedules half (or more) of the week for required meetings and professional development. Teachers have very little time to prepare their rooms and plan their curriculum.
The county provides a pacing guide, but that isn’t the same as having the time to analyze and plan units by yourself or with teammates. Many times, teachers end up just trying to plan for a week or two and don’t consider any long-range needs.
If that sounds like your situation, my advice is to take time soon and dive deep into your standards. Creating a curriculum map of skills and units to teach each quarter can help teachers destress because they know what they need to do.
Identify The Big Ideas
Every grade or class has a few “most important” concepts or ideas that they need to cover. Teachers need to determine what these are for their classes. For example, in Florida, 3rd grade has a heavy focus on reading. 4th grade hits text-based writing for the first time, and 5th grade has a state science test. Those are big topics for each grade, but within that subject, some standards need more emphasis than others.
Teachers can’t only teach one key skill or concept, but identifying which skills your students need to learn by the end of the year can help you develop lessons toward that goal.
Break Down The Skill Into Smaller Chunks
After you identify the core skills your students need to develop, think about how you can teach them in a series of mini-lessons. Focused lessons make the skills more manageable for both you and your students.
Trying to teach a broad concept at one time is frustrating for everyone. Most students will get confused and struggle with parts. Teachers will be overwhelmed with grading large projects or essays. Class time is so tight that it can be challenging to find time to teach a multi-step skill like essay writing or completing a science experiment. Chunking helps you avoid these frustrations.
For example, our county requires elementary students to complete science fair projects. Every year, parents, students, and teachers are frustrated by the process. To make it more manageable, teachers break the project into steps and assign due dates for each piece. It doesn’t completely alleviate the problems, but it helps – teachers can identify which students need more guidance before the projects are due.
Teachers can use this model with any core skill. My friend had a lot of success teaching evidence-based essays step by step. She had a maximum of 2 minutes to teach writing each day, so she focused on just one step until her class mastered it. The first week, they focused on a thesis statement. The students only wrote their thesis, and that was all she had to grade. Students that needed to revise were given time to rewrite. Mini-lessons were held for students ready to move on. Next, they added an introductory paragraph. Again, that was all the students wrote, and that was all she gave feedback on. She told me, “Why should I have them write the entire essay if they can’t write a strong thesis? This way, they can master one piece before moving on.”
By the end, her students did well on the writing test because they regularly reviewed a skill they already learned while just adding the next step.
Benefits Of Breaking Skills Into Chunks
Long-range planning and creating a curriculum map have many benefits for both teachers and students.
- Identifying the key skills allows teachers to use their time to focus more heavily on those concepts.
- Long-range planning prevents last-minute cramming before tests or the end of the year. Teachers and students can both feel prepared for any end-of-the-year tests.
- Students can master one small skill at a time, which avoids overwhelming students with learning multi-step skills all at once.
- Students constantly spiral and review previously mastered skills by adding another skill onto a process.
- Teachers can catch student errors and misunderstandings quickly because they are only grading for a targeted skill.
- Grading is more manageable because teachers are only focusing on one key skill rather than on entire projects or essays. Instead of grading multiple essays each quarter, they perhaps only need to grade one complete essay to determine students’ mastery of skills.
Have you identified your key concepts? How did you do it? Please share any tips you have for breaking down your standards and skills into manageable pieces.
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