I read that teachers make “three thousand nontrivial decisions a day.” WOW. Let that sink in for a minute. Our job is incredibly important and it is HARD. We can’t simply pull out the same old tricks year to year. Sure, some quizzes and activities can be reused. BUT, we have to remember that our students change every year. Every year interests change (our own and our students’) and then there is new information and research in our content areas to process as well. This year we face a huge change as we all adjust to meet the needs of our EL population. I am going to tell you a secret. I don’t plan too far ahead for the fall semester. I work on an outline for the semester and year, noting skills/standards I need to hit and major projects. During the first few weeks of school I get to know students while also teaching some basics for the course. We head straight into the learning in a low stakes way. Once I know a bit more about their interests, personalities, and what skills they already have entering the class, I am ready to begin designing lessons.
I used the term “designing lessons” above because what we do is much more than simply “plan” lessons. We design educational experiences for our students. We are essentially Architects of Education. Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright believed “form should follow function.” This means a building should be designed to suit its purpose. The same goes for education. Our purpose as educators is not to “teach math” or “teach science.” When we look at it that way, we only focus on content. “I taught the content, not my fault if they didn’t get it!” Humans are way more complicated for this approach to work. Our purpose should be to first identify student abilities (and accept where they are when they enter our classrooms!) and then work to move them towards success. We must build the lessons to meet their needs. Success may not look the same from one student to another. THIS IS OKAY. This is the very basis for differentiation. Some may enter our classes lacking foundational skills. So, as Architects of Education, we must first think of the foundation. This requires we get to know our students, who they are, where they come from, what they already know, and what they can do with the information they know. We must start at the foundation and design from there.
- What are you doing to start the year?
- What experiences can you design to help get to know the students you have in the room this semester?
- How can you assess them in a low stakes way to understand where they are and what they know?
You don’t have to start day one with the course outline! Check out how this teacher begins her school year: Leading with Learning I am going to try this approach out this year!
Build in time and activities that will allow you to gain insight about your students throughout the year. Take the time to speak to each one and learn their stories. Survey them, have then write you an introduction letter, play games with them, give them opportunities to share. Then, with a better understanding of who the young adults are in your classroom, design lessons tailor made for them. Channel your inner architect.
Want to discuss ideas? Call, email, or drop by any time!