Today's Boston Globe article reminded me of Massachusetts' new teacher evaluation system, a system I am piloting with a number of other educators in my system. Reading about the system from the view point of teachers and leaders outside of my school system awakened my thoughts about the many ways lessons and lesson planning have changed and remained the same over time.
Lesson plans of old often had the teacher at the front of the room for most of the lesson while students listened. Praise was related more to student behavior than student learning. Today the focus is on student learning and lesson plans that can travel many more positive paths given the tools and research we have available. Also, lesson plans today don't represent discrete learning moments, but instead a piece of an overall in-school/out-of-school learning stream meant to take a student from unknowing to knowing in specific areas.
Hence, what do today's lesson plans look like?
Objective: The objective for today's lesson is focused on students' needs, interests and passions. The lesson takes into account students' collective learning history, current standards, neurodiversity, cultural backgrounds and academic need. The objective is clearly shared with the students at the start of the lesson with clarity i.e. written and verbal.
Engagement: Through story, rationale and paradox, educators awaken and engage students in the lesson objective. Essentially the educator wets the learner's appetite for what's to come.
Less of us (educators), More of them: Unlike the "sage on the stage" lessons of old, in today's lessons the educator introduces the lesson with a short focus lesson (5-15 minutes) engaging students in dialogue along the way. Then, most of the lesson is spent in active, collaborative learning endeavor where students are learning in multi-sensory, thought-provoking ways.
Differentiated: Rarely is a lesson one-size-fits-all today. Typically lessons have many levels of achievement available from review to grade level to enrichment levels. Educators craft the lessons so that the lesson flow leads students in an engaging and just-right challenging path to learning.
Voice and Choice: Where possible, educators leave room in lessons for student choice and voice, thus giving students ownership during the lesson and the chance to develop independent learning skills. Choice can be as simple as who to work with or where to work or as complex as choosing the question or topic to research as they learn research skills.
Blended: Lessons today use tools in engaging, blended ways. Typically lessons have a menu approach where students have many learning options and tools available Often these menus will be computer menus where students have the choice amongst many links for learning.
Technology: Lessons today weave technology into the learning in dynamic ways. For example fact worksheets of old are much better replaced by quick-feedback fact practice on the computer, or better yet engaging, multi-player games that excite students' competitive gaming instincts while also solidifying number or content fact knowledge--knowledge that can sometimes be tiresome to attain. Similarly using digital tools to compose stories and solve problems can offer students less drudgery and the potential for more advanced, professional work.
Coaching: Good lessons today find that students coach students and teachers coach students. Unlike lessons of old where it was expected that some would succeed and others would not, today's educators seek to bring all students to mastery one step at a time. Hence after a short, targeted focus lesson, teachers will spend their time coaching individuals and small groups in specific learning endeavor.
Feedback: Feedback throughout the lesson is targeted, forward-moving and based on observation and objective.
Learning Environment: The environment is positive, happy and conducive to learning. A quiet environment is not necessarily the most positive learning environment, yet a raucous, wild environment will also not lead to optimal learning.
Preparation: Optimal lessons show evidence of planning and preparation related to students' needs, interests and passions.
As I embark on my "explain-it" theme for the next 6-8 weeks of learning, I'll also make optimal lesson design and implementation a focus in an effort to move students forward with engagement and intent. Similarly during summer study, I'll develop this list so it better matches what we know today about engaging, effective learning design.