Monday, October 14, 2013

The Best Laid Lesson Plans

What's the saying about the best laid plans? That they often go astray, right? Well, that's pretty much how I've been feeling about lesson plans lately.
Today I had a plan in mind for my 7th graders. I mean, hi, I'm a teacher, I have solid lesson plans...but...then, as I was interacting with the students and seeing their reactions and their responses, I realized I needed to adjust on the fly. There is truly no point to wasting any of the limited time we have together, and if something isn't working, or not even really that but more so if something isn't quite what my students really need right then, it would be doing them a disservice to stick to a plan that isn't going to provide the best learning experience for those students at that moment. For this reason, my plans often change in the middle of a class as I monitor understanding or after I read through an assessment piece and see what direction my students need to go to most improve. And, honestly, sometimes it's just that as we're in the moment, I remember something I've seen that might help them understand a concept even better than what I had planned. And why wouldn't I switch to that? Because I have an overall plan, and I have an outline of the structure of the class period, it allows me to change things if I realize they need to be adjusted.

Today it was when students were reading the feedback on their first book responses they turned in. Because it was the first one, I gave quite a bit of detailed written feedback so students could see what I expect, how their first attempt went, and areas of strength and areas to improve on. They were going to find their golden lines (thanks Kelly Gallagher!) so we could celebrate their strong writing and see a model of what it looks like, but then I realized something. There was a comment I had written over and over on their papers, and I remembered I had seen an anchor chart about that exact topic that just might help them to see it more clearly. So the search was on for me to remember where I'd seen it and share it with them. Within a few minutes I was able to figure out that it was a tweet I had seen of a chart on "Prompts to Help Us Push Our Thinking" - and that was just what I needed my students to do. I asked my students to find the commonality in the feedback within their groups, and they realized it was the comment about explaining more or giving evidence or examples to support their thoughts. So the lesson plan was adjusted. The chart went up. The students saw it, and then I had them find a place in their own papers (which were already graded, but that's ok, they can still improve them) where they could push their thinking. I had them put a star in that spot, and then they got to work adding that further thinking.

So, if it hadn't been for my willingness to adjust a lesson plan on the fly, and respond to the need of my students and my own lightbulb moment, I might not have had that experience of students seeing something concrete that really helped them see a way to improve their writing.

And this is why I'm okay with plans going astray. Because sometimes, in a classroom, they need to in order to do what's best for students.

When I think about some of the highly detailed curriculum maps I've seen, and try to put that in place for my classroom and teaching my students, I can't even fully wrap my mind around it. Why? Because I don't know exactly who these particular students will be in seven months, after the new year, even next week. And that matters. Because I need to teach these students what they need at this moment. Why? Because my students are constantly evolving and learning and growing. And if I'm going to be the best teacher for them, I need to be evolving and learning and growing right along with them...even if it means the best laid lesson plans go astray.

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