Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Essential Elements of Lesson Plans

There are TONS of styles and formats that can be used when writing up a lesson plan and different schools will require certain styles of their teachers to attain uniformity in their paperwork for school accreditation reviews, if you are working for a school system, you'll want to use the format they prefer but I can be fairly certain it will include these same basic elements listed here.  If you are looking for a casual synopsis of the most important elements to consider when doing your lesson planning, this is the place.

I have to admit, I haven't written a full formal lesson plan since I stopped classroom teaching and I know plenty of teachers that write them up and then don't follow the plan, only write up plans as required by their school (when review time comes around), or don't write them at all if their superiors don't make it a requirement or don't check up.

Having said that, I will say that with the virtual schooling program we use, lesson plan essentials are provided to follow for all of the lessons required by the school.  That makes it a lot easier to skip this otherwise important step (someone else has done it for me, but I still have to know what those objectives are).  There are a few essential items that should be planned out before any lesson because they help keep you focused as the teacher or learning coach for your kids.

The first critical element of a lesson plan is knowing your objectives.  Objectives are like small pieces of a goal.  All the little steps that lead to achieving a goal.  If you had a goal to lose 50lbs, you might make one of your first objectives about incorporating more exercise into your regime.  Perhaps you would do something like, add 30 minutes of intense exercise 4 days/week for the next two weeks to my schedule (at which point you'd have another objective increasing your activity levels even further).  For more specifics about writing educational objectives click here.

Another thing that can happen when you have the freedom to take more time to "explore" is to let your first objective be that, "explore". Many times as children explore, you will observe what it is that "hooks" them the most. More objectives can grow from this first encounter in such a way as to allow you to address objectives that require addressing that the child may have been reluctant to address with you otherwise.  After identifying your objectives for a lesson, you then need to identify which activity you would like to do to address the objective and approximately how long you expect that activity to take. 

If the activity is one with which you are already super familiar, just noting a title for the activity that will remind you what you have planned along with a list of materials that will be needed (so you can be sure you have them ready) and an approximate time required should be enough for you to use in organizing your day.  If you'll be sharing the plans with anyone else or the lesson activity is new to you, you'll probably want to include a list of steps or directions about how to complete the activity. 

Frequently, it might work the other way around and you find an activity that looks really fun and exciting.  Perhaps there is an embedded piece that will address an objective that will work your child or students toward a goal you are both working on achieving.  If this is the case, GREAT! You have still identified both an activity and an objective.  If the activity doesn't have a specific objective it addresses, if you are limited on time you might want to skip it.  If, you are a parent and can do the activity just for the fun of it - then why not?  Just relax and enjoy doing the activity together anyway.

Lastly in your written planning, you'll want to make some sort of mention (and think through) how you will assess whether the objective was met or not.  This can be particularly difficult in a setting where there are multiple students because the smaller the ratio of teacher to student the more casual about some assessment you can often be.  Assessments can be worksheets, tests, reports, demonstrations, journals and other traditional types of assessments for classrooms, but they can be a lot of other things too - even a discussion can frequently function as an assessment. For ideas about less traditional forms of assessment check out the article, "Assessing Wiggle Worms".  Then, keep an eye out for future articles that will include more ideas for you.

Quick List of Essentials:
  • List of specific and measurable objectives (keep it short).
  • Materials Needed List
  • Approximate time the Lesson will require
  • Title for the activity and notes (from brief self reminder to detailed and step by step depending on your needs) about how the activity is to be done.
  • Brief description of how you will go about assessing achievement.
Quick List of nice things to Add - especially if anyone else will be looking at the lesson plan:
  • Prior knowledge that is required for the kids to already have obtained
  • Prior skills that are required for the kids to already have obtained
  • List of related vocabulary.
  • For formal performance assessments (assessments that are not simply tests with right and wrong answers) it is good to include your rubric (a table defining what performance level is expected on different aspects of an assessment for different point values).
Unfortunately, many standard lesson plan formats do NOT require spaces for things that should also be a big part of your considerations like:
  • An explanation of WHY the activity chosen will be particularly helpful for the kids with whom you will be working.
  • Whether or not the lesson plan incorporates multiple learning styles (or at least the learning style of the student(s) you happen to be teaching).
  • Whether or not you've offered enough movement balanced with more quiet aspects (for kids who need the quieter down time to process). 
  • Consideration of multiple intelligences (one can't always hit on all eight and it is absurd to try since most kids have a couple of intelligences that are already pretty strong and most subjects do not lend themselves to all eight.  If you try to hit at least 5 of the intelligences for a classroom you'll probably create a bridge for most, if not all of your students). 
Also, within an entire unit of study it is smart to incorporate multiple styles of assessing.  Assessments of all kinds test the students skills at that style of assessment as much as they also test acquisition of knowledge.  If you are only using one type of assessment for everything (especially in elementary classrooms and in home schools) you are depriving your students of the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge at their best if they aren't already pretty good at the style you default to.  Additionally, they aren't learning other assessment styles and practicing the skills required to be good at those too. 

Even if you are home schooling your kids, going through the process of at least thinking through the parts of a lesson plan will make your teaching that much stronger and effective.  Writing it down and having your paper to reference, will help keep you focused.

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