Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Secrets To Lesson Planning

I know that employment realities make writing out "lesson plans" a necessity for many teachers. Frankly, I don't know how one would write one of those, especially when it comes to the part about "leaning objectives." How can anyone know what someone is going to learn on any given day engaged in any given activity?

I once read an article featuring the warehouse used by the television program Mythbusters. I was so impressed by their balance between order and functionality that I've tried to emulate it here. I should note that I do know where most things are and that this area is off limits to children.

As a teacher employing an emergent, play-based curriculum, I figure my "planning" job is to keep up with the kids, observing, listening, calculating trajectories, then to do what I can to work with parents and our environment in support of their pursuit of knowledge, which, not accidentally, looks exactly like playing. Indeed, what I've found is that the more planning I do, the more likely it is that I inadvertently develop my own agenda. If I'm not then super conscious about setting aside that agenda the moment the children have a better idea, and they usually have a better idea, it tends to get in the way of their all-important pursuit. 

I use this aisle to park my lesson planning bike during the day

In fact, I do most of my day-to-day curriculum planning during my 30 minute bicycle commute to and from school each day. Every now and then I'll jot a few notes when I arrive on the premises and a few just before departure. Sometimes I'll leave myself a sort of reminder on a counter top, like the old technique of tying a string around one's finger. 

It occurred to me yesterday, however, while participating in an online discussion, that there is another level of planning in which I engage, one I'd never thought of as "lesson planning" until now. And that is to have a well-stocked storage room, because there isn't always an opportunity to swing by the shops in the heat of our pursuit of knowledge. Now I can't tell you what that means exactly. Yes, we do have the obligatory art, constructive, and dramatic play supplies. We have collections of stuff, leftover things, and "ingredients," such as vinegar, baking soda, flour, liquid starch, vegetable oil, salt, Ivory Snow, and corn starch. Much of what we have in our storage room is what someone has previously declared "garbage." We've taken charge of it by way of using it one more time (or often many more times) before it heads to the landfill. 

Without this well-stocked storage room (not to mention the stuff stashed in and around our outdoor classroom) it would be much more of a challenge to engage in bicycle commute lesson planning. It's this that allows us to respond quickly to the rapidly changing needs, ideas, and directions the children take in their pursuit. There are still times, of course, when what we think we need isn't at hand, but more often than not, in our storage room of garbage, we can find something that will at least make do for the moment . . . And in a emergent, play-based pursuit, the moment is often everything.

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Anonymous said...

A perfect way of lesson planning. The plan is to be 2 steps ahead both mentally and physically and hope that you have interpreted the direction correctly in order to support and facilitate a window of learning. Its a squillion synapses happening that are extremely hard to document in a way that is meaningful to a non observer.

Anonymous said...

How terrific! At the moment I am mentoring a student teacher and she sat next to me in my allocated planning time to watch how I do it. I fumbled around for a bit before stopping myself and telling her, my ideas come when the children present them to me. it is not often that i lesson plan. i set up the classroom so that children have access to a wide range of materials which can influence their thinking or be an inspiration for an idea. Right now in our classroom we have a dragon habitat growing, because someone (not me) had a "genuis" idea!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I think teachers as a whole get stuck on the traditional lesson plan as being the only correct/appropriate means of teaching. I believe that there are jus as many forms of planning/preparation as there are forms of learning. This is a good reminder post. I like all of the pictures! Thank you!

check out my blog for EDM310:
Courtney's Class Blog

Miss H said...

Thanks for that post! As a Junior Kindergarten teacher, I also find it difficult to plan the day since I do not know where the discoveries and inquiries will lead in the day. I am someone who loves to plan, so letting go is not always easy. I have noticed too though that the children tend to learn more when I plan less and just use that time and energy to document what is happening. :)

Marta Zeegers said...

Awesome! Thank you for helping me find the lingo to defend what I do.
I'm also a *teeny* bit jealous of your storage space :)

Rikki said...

This is great! One of my big frustrations is that we are required to submit weekly lessons plans that include daily "indoor activities", "outdoor activities", changes to the environment, books we will read, and more. I teach in an Early Head Start classroom, for children from 18 months-3 years. Our lesson plans are supposed to be based on the children's interests, though toddlers tend to be interested in anything and everything and their interests can hold for days or minutes. It's really hard to know ahead of time what they will want to do, say, or play with on any given day.

Besides the lesson plans, we also observe and take notes on the children's development across 30+ different checkpoints. Four times per year we assign the children a level based on their skills and knowledge, in various developmental areas such as social-emotional, physical, cognition, math, literacy, language, science, social studies and the arts. It's exhausting at times. We have the children five days a week, for 6 hours a day, year round, but when you subtract the time they are sleeping, eating or using the bathroom, there is very little time to really get in there and interact with them on their level. One of the preschool teachers told me today (and they have WAY more assessement requirements than us and WAY less time-4 days per week, 1/2 day classes, academic year schedule, not to mention twice as many children) that sometimes she gets so tired of always moving along to the next thing. Sometimes she just wants to let a child tell her his 20 minute long story.
Another employee was telling me that she was late coming out to ride the bus to take the children home because she had been testing some of the preschoolers and had learned that she'd been doing it wrong. She was upset because she felt she had messed up. I told her I was upset that 4 year olds were being tested.