10/08/2009

25+ Elements Teachers are Expected to Infuse Into Their Lesson Plans



I used to wonder why I couldn't seem to get all my lesson planning done in the 1.5hr planning period I'm given every other day for the purpose.  Then I started keeping track of all the "unfunded mandates" heaped on me and my fellow teachers by administrators, professional development resources, and society.  These are extra skills, theories, and best practices that we are expected to infuse into our lessons IN ADDITION to content mastery.  Believe me, a LOT of creativity and extra work are required to design lessons that serve multiple purposes at once.   But which of the following are you willing for you student to forego?  Yeah, that's the rub - once you read the list, I think you'll agree they're all worthwhile. I think I finally understand why I - and so many other consciencious teachers - end up regularly working an extra 12-20 hours a week to make sure that all of the following happens:
  1. Bloom's Taxonomy.  This widely-regarded theory of learning posits that learning can occur at different levels of cognitive challenge, in the following order from least challenging to most challenging: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating.  What teachers are expected to do is to ensure learning is always occuring at the highest possible level of cognitive challenge. 
  2. Schlecty's Design Qualities of Choice.  Mr. Schlecty's contribution to the body of educational wisdom is to posit that children are most engaged in learning when the following conditions are met: the learning is focused on a product that is interesting or that matters to them, the task is "authentic" (has real world significance), they are allowed to work with peers, they are able to exercise some level of choice, the assignment includes novelty/variety,  and their performance will be affirmed in a meaningful way.  Accordingly, effective teachers will attempt to infuse these principles into their teaching and assessment.
  3. Marzano's Instructional Strategies.  Based on a metastudy of instructional strategies, Marzano et. al. identified a list of strategies that have been proven by research to increase mastery and retention of information.  The challenge for teachers is to ensure that they utilize these research-based strategies to deliver their curriculum.  Bet you're wondering what these miracle strategies are!  In fact, they're pretty intuitive, and include: identifying similarities/differences, summarizing/note-taking, reinforcing effort/providing recognition, homework/practice, cooperative learning, nonlinguistic representation, setting objectives/providing feedback, generating/testing hypotheses, and using cues/questions/advanced organizers.
  4. Differentiation.  This buzzword encompasses the enormous task of creating instruction that can be easily customized to accomodate the needs of learners with different strengths and challenges.  A laudible goal that most teachers heartily endorse, but it's a whole lot more easier to create a lesson designed to teach the same thing the same way to everyone, than to teach the same thing in different ways to different groups of students (simultaneously, by the way) ... all without creating the perception that some students are in any way less capable than others.
  5. Special needs.  IDEA codifies the (entirely appropriate) conviction that students with special needs have the right to be educated in classrooms alongside their non-disabled peers whenever possible.  The good news is that, except in the case of the most impactful disabilities, this is usually entirely feasible.  The challenge, however, is learning/physical/emotional disabilities don't "go away"  just because a student has been placed in a regular classroom. Teachers need to be mindful of the nature and impact of the learning challenges of these students, and to ensure that curriculum is presented in such a way that these students are able to access it.
  6. ABA/Behaviour Modification.  It is often necessary for teachers to take an active role in assessing or modifying the behaviour of students with special needs (or suspected of having special needs).  Their curriculum must be designed so as to allow time and opportunity to measure/plot learning and behaviour (ex: behaviour charts, ABA, Response to Intervention).
  7. Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  A gentleman named Howard Gardner posited that IQ can't be measured in one realm; rather, humans demonstrate intelligence in eight different realms: spatial, linguistic, logical/mathematical, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.  The challenge for the teacher is to find ways to assess students that align with their intellectual strengths - for instance, allowing a student with strong linguistic IQ to respond verbally, a student with strong musical IQ to respond musically/rhythmically, or a student with strong naturlistic IQ to respond in a wholistically.  Definitely a challenge!
  8. Learning Styles Theory.  This widely credited theory posits that students learn visually, orally, and tactilely - but that each student possesses relative strengths or weakenesses in each of these three aptitudes. Therefore, teachers are expected to present material in all three styles, and to assess student mastery in the style in which they are strongest.  (NOTE: recent research has suggested no increase in content mastery or retention when this technique is used, so maybe someday this "unfunded mandate" will drop away ... but for now, the theory is so widely known and accepted, it will probably take a long time before it is as widely discredited as an educational best practice.) 
  9. Transition/Career Skills.  There will always be disagreement over the ultimate goal of education (is it to teaching critical thinking? create cultural homogeneity? train students to be good citizens/good workers/good taxpayers?) ... however, most people's definition includes preparing students to gain successful employment.   To this end, schools/teachers are expected to infuse into their lessons such vital career preparation as how to use IT, write a resume, create and comprehend informational text, work as a team, etc.  While we're at it, we're also expected to expose our students to a wide range of career options, and to encourage them to explore/consider career prerequisites.
  10. Functional Skills.  Another purpose of public education most folks would get behind is the necessity to produce students who will be able to function as adults: balance a checkbook, make good choices about health, identify a scam, effectively identify/weigh pros and cons before reaching a decision.  Accordingly, we teachers are asked to infuse these skills into our curriculum.
  11. Cooperative Learning/Teaming.  This is a specific skill that students will require in order to succeed in life, and one that schools are expected to take the lead in modelling. 
  12. Critical Thinking.  Ask someone who has graduated from college and they will almost certainly support the idea that a critical function of public education is teaching students how to think.  In this increasingly complex world, it is increasingly important that we produce citizens able to evaluate complex variables, recognize subtlety, and project consequences. As teachers, we possess a unique ability not only to encourage students to engage in critical thinking, but to expose them to the ways in which critical thinking has shaped our current world (science, politics, literature, etc.)
  13. Literacy.  A fundamental goal of public education is to create a literate society. However, a single English class every year is almost never sufficient for teaching true literacy - the ability to effectively communicate and comprehend through the use of written language.  Therefore, teachers of all subjects - including math, science, history, physical education - are asked to create lessons that will build literacy skills.
  14. Cultural Literacy.  This term is used to define the "universal information" that citizens of this country need to understand in order to be interpret allusions, comprehend language, and recognize the origin of certain widely-held beliefs, customs and shared ideas.  Imagine watching a show as basic as The Simpsons without a basic understanding of history, literature, custom/culture, proverb or idiom and you'll see what I mean.  (And don't even try comprehending more sophisticated cartoons like Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes.)  Our job as teachers is to ensure that students possessing a staggering range of cultural, racial, social and economic backgrounds emerge from school possessing enough commen knowledge to be able to effectively comprehend and communicate with each other. 
  15. Multiculturalism.  Speaking of students with different cultural backgrounds, schools are expected to build familiarity with and respect for diverse cultures.  You think not?  Then explain why most colleges require 3yrs of a foreign language in high school.  It's no good being able to comprehend and communicate with folks from different cultures if you're ignorant of (or, worse yet, scornful of) their cultural differences.
  16. Cultural Sensitivity. A subset of "differentiation," this describes the imperative placed on teachers to be aware of how cultural differences impact learning.  For instance, students from some countries may feel very uncomfortable with assignments that require direct competition, while others may come from cultures that condone speaking out and interrupting others.  Good teachers are expected to design lessons that respect and accomodate these differences.
  17. Socioeconomic Sensitivity. Yet another subset of "differentiation," this describes the imperative placed on teachers to be aware of how socioeconomic differences impact learning.  For instance, students who are hungry, homeless, or emotionally scared by the stress of monetary struggle may have difficulty focusing on classwork, completing homework, or staying awake in class.  Good teachers - and caring people in general - are expected to recognize the symptoms of socioeconomic struggle and accomodate learning appropriately.
  18. Test Taking Skills. Alas, as long as NCLB continues, it won't be good enough for students to be smart - they will need to be able to prove they are smart on a variety of standardized tests.  Accordingly, teachers are expected to infuse their lessons with test vocabulary (ex: which of these best describes ...), test-taking tips/tricks (ex: eliminate distractors), and practice tests formatted to resemble the standized test du jour.
  19. Note Taking Skills.  Contrary to popular conception, many students don't naturally develop effective note-taking strategies.  Therefore, it is important that teachers expose students to a variety of techniques (ex: outlining, Cornell notes, box and underline), model their use, provide opportunities for students to practice the skills, and provide feedback so that students can continue to build effective note-taking skills.  Try getting through college without good note-taking skills ... or try borrowing notes from someone who has no clue how to take them!
  20. Learning Strategies. Another popular misconception is that students know how to study.  If only! Therefore, it is necessary that teachers to expose students to a variety of study techniques (ex: flash cards, outlining, mnemonics, cover&quiz), model their use, provide opportunities for students to practice the skills, etc.  I feel especially sorry for smart kids who don't have to learn how to study ... until they get into a tough college and find out that now that they have to, they have no clue how to go about it!
  21. LEARN Model/model-practice-do.  Research suggests that students learn best when your organize your information in the following order: Link new information to old --> Engage the student --> Activate learning --> Reflect on what they've learned --> foreshadow what comes Next (LEARN, get it?).  Another version of this is model-practice-do.  However, to structure lessons in this way requires thought and considerable planning, to ensure skills are appropriately broken down, introduced in a scaffolded way, and organized accordingly.
  22. Active Learning. Research likewise suggests that students learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process.  This means creating lesson plans that encourage the students to "teach themselves" through hands-on learning, high-interest activities, cooperative learning, or other active learning techniques.
  23. IB/IBMYP.  Our school participates in a pyramid (pyramid = elementary schools, middle schools, and the high school(s) they feed into) that has adopted the International Baccalaureate curriculum.  That means infusing the elements of IB (areas of interaction, approaches to learning, etc.) into the regular curriculum. 
  24. Citizenship/Social Values/Community Service.  Another core value of IB is social values/community service, but many schools not involved in IB place emphasis on the importance of teaching students to be good citizens.  Does your school require that students earn a certain number of community service hours? Or participate in community service projects? Hold voter registration drives? See?  This burden is especially borne by Civics teachers, though all teachers are expected to infuse good social values into their curriculum.
  25. Appropriate Behaviour.  There was a time when instilling good behaviour was widely accepted as the obligation of parents, but over the years schools have been expected to take more leadership in the process of teaching basic respect and responsibility.  Behaviours often specifically targeted include bullying, sexual harassment, poor self-esteem, and intolerance.

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