If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This is one of those old teaching adages, passed down from the elders to me in my early days of teaching. Like many great cliches, it has endured, because it’s true. I’ve recognized the central role of planning to my teaching since the Labor Day Monday before my first day, when I anxiously tried to plan a whole 7 hours of lessons.
It’s laughable now to think back on how difficult that first day’s lesson plan was for me. What’s funnier is that I once thought that my first year of lesson planning would be my last. Get that first year of lesson plans written, I thought, and I’d be set for life. The reality is, three years later, I’m not only still planning, but I’m also still learning how to plan better.
My first year’s plans were an honest effort. I was sure to include all the components I’d learned during my Fellows pre-service training: an objective, standard(s) addressed, HITS (High Impact Teaching Strategies) I would be employing, materials, motivation and introduction to new material, guided practice, independent practice and summary. Other than the HITS (which I think is just so adorable), my lesson plans look similar in structure, with a few minor changes and additions.
Those first lesson plans however, were lacking the same depth of experience as their teacher. Each lesson written for the first time was devoid of the real understanding that different students learn in different ways, and the necessary differentiation. Nor did these plans anticipate the misconceptions and questions that would undoubtedly arise.
Second year showed growth, and a better understanding of the process of going from modeling to independent work. Yet I still didn’t plan in a way that accommodated the broad range of abilities in my classroom. I was still planning one-size-fits-all lessons, fully knowing my classroom was filled with students reading from first- to fourth-grade level.
In the intervening years (all 1.5 of them) my plans have continued to evolve. Hopefully for the better. Still, it’s surprising how the work that goes into improving my lesson plans seems never-ending. While I feel I have the experience now that allows for some organic implementation of lesson plans, it’s that same experience that has taught me how useful it is to plan for the minutiae. And it’s that same experience that tells me my lesson planning will never be over as long as I’m teaching different students each year.
Lesson planning however, is in many ways a very personal process, and I know some close friends who go into the classroom and practically improvise from start to finish. Everyone seems to have their own philosophy. I’m curious, and I’d like to hear in the comments, how much time other teachers spend planning. How detailed are your plans? Do you create a script? Or more of an outline?
I think I fall somewhere in between, but I’m trending (with plenty of encouragement from my administration) toward the former. I’m hoping by improving my planning, I’ll make my failures fewer and farther between.
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