Today is the last installment of the Planning Series! Over the past few weeks, I hope that you’ve not only picked up on some great planning strategies, but have renewed your mindset by throwing out those old limiting beliefs so that you can show up as an empowered leader in your school community.
First, a necessary mindset shift
From personal experience, I know the following to be true: “Covering” content lowers engagement and achievement.
And I believe the quickest way to drive up student engagement and build students’ skills is to stop trying to cover the traditional curriculum map and, instead, create 4 justice-centered units. Student engagement is way more likely to come from creating lessons that have students explore their skills, make mistakes, revise their work, learn from feedback, collaborate, and learn deeply. The mindset shift we need to make is to have a goal that is more than “fit it all in”. How about we instead find what really motivates students to explore what they're interested in?
So before doing anything else, the most important shift is to move your lesson plan goal from “covering content” to developing independent learners.
I found when I used terms like “cover content” and “get through,” the students weren’t retaining what I wanted them to anyways. It was better to focus on doing less, but make sure students were actually learning it. The things that may have been important to teach 50 years ago are Google-able now. Therefore, it’s more important students are able to find, analyze, and apply new information than memorize a predetermined list of facts.
“Once I made that mindset shift, that was a huge shift in advancing my student’s learning and definitely an increase in their engagement.”
Cut down on time
If you find yourself spending hours making mini lessons, you might ask yourself: How could I teach the same content and have the students practice a different skill than listening and note-taking? For example, when I prepped for lectures, I would read through a textbook, make a slide deck, and create a guided worksheet. This took about 4 hours per lesson.
But if you want to make this lesson more student-centered then you need to find a text(s), generate 1-2 big questions to answer, and choose a text-based protocol from my resource bank. This process only takes about 30 minutes which saves you 3 and a half hours compared to the original method! If you stay dedicated to student-centered learning, planning will be easier, and your students will develop great text analysis skills.
If you feel like your lesson plans need to be formal or by the book, you might be spending too much time on the surface when you need to dig down to the root of your curriculum, the purpose of it. We want to plan from the lens of hitting the broader course goals. To me, an effective lesson plan is one that works for you. It’s an outline of your ideas and a check for alignment with your larger unit or course goals. It is the basis from which your lesson materials emerge.
A more streamlined lesson plan
You get to put your own spin on it, but here are the core elements of a lesson that I think serve the needs of both teachers and administrators:
The End Goal
Know exactly what students need to do for your summative assessment at the end of the unit. What are you working towards?
Narrow it down to ONE thing you want students to walk away knowing or being able to do. Students who are able to focus on 1 or 2 topics are going to learn more deeply than trying to get them to take on several skills. If the goal is to help them master and retain the knowledge, then giving them too many things will work against this goal.
Phase of Learning
Make sure there’s at least one lesson per phase for each unit. Consider whether students’ students are new to this skill or have been previously introduced. If they have been previously introduced, there are multiple ways you can have them practice or expand so that they feel they are really advancing in this area.
These guidelines will help keep your expectations for student performance in line with the amount of time students have had to work on a skill. There’s a tendency to provide less time than is needed for students to really master a skill, and cite a need to “cover content” as our rationale.
Don’t have time? Focus on fewer skills and content. Depth over breadth!
Lesson Flow [The Activities]
These are your core protocols for the lesson. Stick with one main activity for student work time. Then, you can add in a hook and assessment activity to bookend the main activity.
Within this section of the plan, you may want to note 1-2 key questions that students are answering during each protocol. For example, how much time do you think each activity will take, and what resources are needed?
If you like to lecture, you may want to decrease your talk time so that students can have more time to do independent work where they can apply what they’ve learned. I have found that trying to limit my number of slides helps me narrow my focus to one core concept—try using 10 slides per mini lesson with a maximum teacher talk time of 15 minutes. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but pick numbers that work for you and stretch yourself to streamline your mini lessons.
Certainly, there are more things that could go into your lesson plan, but odds are, you’re probably already thinking about those things as you plan. If not, add them to your lesson plan, but only write down what you need to organize your ideas and ensure this lesson gets students where they need to go.
To help you write a lesson plan with just the essential elements, I’ve made you a template called the Streamlined Lesson Planning Template.
Thanks for following along with this series. Please share some of your highlights from this episode and the past episodes or something you were excited to learn.
And if you want me to take you on an in-depth walkthrough of how I saved 700 hours of planning time in one year as a teacher, my self paced online course, Work Less Teach More, is now open for enrollment. The course is $197. What's your professional and mental wellbeing worth to you? For me, my wellbeing is worth way more than $200. Enroll in the self-paced online course today at bit.ly/wltmcourse
If you’re a school leader wanting to help your teachers free up the time and energy to tackle big transformative things, you can purchase this course for your teachers as a pilot for one department or grade team or for the whole school. Want to chat to see if the course would be a good fit? Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.