Careful planning of daily, weekly, and entire unit lesson plans is vital to a successful learning environment. A teacher must carefully consider a multitude of factors when determining the coursework for their students. In this article we will explore a few areas teachers should consider when putting together effective lessons and discussion topics for their students pursuant to the subject matter to be taught.
Consider Previous Knowledge and Cultural Relevance
The previous student knowledge and cultural relevance of that knowledge yields exceptional opportunities for innovative and interesting lessons. It is extremely important for the teacher to gain the interest of their students to create a learning environment conducive to student understanding and growth. Incorporating a “pre-test” (graded or non-graded) at the beginning of a new unit is an excellent way to determine student prior knowledge of the subject.
A teacher should also research and consider bringing in discussion of the culture of the classes they teach to spur interest of the subject. Students are much more likely to become interested in the area of study when they can readily see the cultural relevance. A few ways to introduce cultural relevance include: short videos, movies, guest speakers, suggested outside reading, and newspapers.
Map Out Higher-Level Questions
Higher-level questioning in the classroom is imperative to foster meaningful classroom discussion. Simple one word answer or short-answer questions help to learn terminology. In order to steer students toward conceptual understanding and working knowledge, a teacher must use high-level questioning. Once a teacher can gain open discussion in the classroom, students can and will begin to think and reflect at a higher level. A teacher should incorporate several higher-level questions into each daily lesson plan. Higher-level questioning can be assessed through classroom discussion or through written responses that are turned in at the end of class.
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Keep an Eye on Timing
In planning, the teacher should incorporate adequate time for all aspects of the lesson plans. If any part of the lesson has to be rushed through, then it appears to be less important than the other components of the lesson. Careful planning and consideration of relevance is crucial to make a lesson flow seamlessly and transition into a complete, meaningful daily lesson.
Bell ringers are always a exceptional way to begin the lesson and also a exceptional way to complete the lesson. By using a high-level bell ringer and then revisiting the same question at the end of the lesson, a teacher can drive home the concept of the day. Effective lesson planning ends with effective closure for the day and an opening for discussion for tomorrow. All parts of an effective lesson plan should have value and a smooth transition into the next part of the plan.
Roadblocks should always be considered when planning lessons for our students. Also, the teacher should be prepared for the roadblocks that they did not consider when planning. It is imperative that misconceptions and lack of knowledge be used to lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter when worked through as a group. A teacher should never allow misconceptions or lack of understanding to go un-addressed. As educators we should always be looking to use these moments to “make the light bulb go off” in the minds of our students. We should be looking for those moments when students say, “Oh, I get it.”
Misconceptions and lack of understanding lead to disinterest and frustration in students. We as educators should always use these moments of lack of understanding or confusion as “the teachable moment” we have been waiting for. Students must be challenged and allowed to learn from their mistakes.
It is also important for a teacher to be patient with students that are struggling with a certain concept. The teacher should be willing to adjust lesson plans and incorporate differentiated instruction when these misconceptions occur. No matter how carefully a teacher plans, roadblocks can and do occur. As with any other part of instruction, roadblocks, misconceptions, and lack of understanding can be used as tools for deep, meaningful learning.
Don’t Forget Assessments
Assessments should always measure what the teacher has taught and have an instrument of higher-level learning. Assessments should have meaning and be more than just “recall”. If a classroom of students is well prepared, they should be able to answer conceptually pursuant to the subject matter that has been presented to them. The hope of a good assessment is that it shows student learning and student growth. Assessment questions, like lesson planning, should be carefully thought out with clear, concise questions that address the unit of study being assessed. Teachers should anticipate roadblocks and misconceptions when writing assessments as well. Teachers should also implement frequent assessments throughout a unit which will give students opportunity at success and check for unknown misconceptions. The final assessment should cover the entire unit that has been covered. Teachers should always be prepared to set aside some time for re-teaching should the need arise.
Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
Vince Lombardi said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” Careful planning of lessons from the beginning is imperative for exceptional teaching. As teachers we want our class to be warm, inviting, safe, and by all means exciting. Let’s face it, a student will learn as deeply as they are capable of in a classroom where they want to learn. By carefully planning, we can make our classroom a classroom that all students want to be in.
W. Stephen is a Middle/High School Principal and holds an MA in Educational Leadership.