Start with the end in mind. In my opinion, that doesn’t just mean start thinking about the fun project that you’ll have your students complete at the end of the unit. The end can be a fun project, but the backwards planning model means putting the skills, knowledge, and concepts students will learn first, then the product second. Backward planning allows you to see what you really need to accomplish with a task, unit, or assignment. And mostly importantly – for me, anyway – it helps me know where I’m going in the grand scheme of the year so I know I cover everything and do everything with a purpose. So, how do it do it? I basically start with my standards, and since I teach high school English, I look specifically at the writing standards first. Organizing my units by a specific writing mode – rather than chronologically like the textbook – allows me to choose model texts and/or texts that lend themselves to writing for that mode. Along the way, I teach the texts as a vehicle for that end product rather than just teaching the texts in isolation. I want the students to be able to transfer the skills we learn from each text and within each unit to other texts and tasks throughout the year.
When thinking about the day-to-day lessons, there are many things to consider that could prevent or promote classroom success: number of students, capability of students, class time, time of year, class space, technology availability, and more. You can’t think of everything, certainly, but having an awareness of these can help set you on the right track.
I was teaching theme development (lesson here) one day and was ready to play the audio of the song that I use to model the strategy, when in walks the principal for a pop eval. I looked
around for my iPod where I had the song stored, only to realize that I had left it in my car. Now, thankfully, we have access to the Internet and youtube.com in each classroom. But I still wasn’t ready for a seamless transition – there goes a few points. I was panicking in my head, but I was able to stall a little by having the students pause and review/summarize what we’d already done in class while I pulled up the song – points recovered. Thankfully, the song was available, and it played with no problems. The principal was even singing along! He never knew that wasn’t the plan; however, it doesn’t always go that way. I’ve had bulbs go out in my projector and have to get a neighbor to watch my class while I rushed to the copy room, or forget to make the handout and students have to copy it all down, which slowed my lesson down. There are numerous things that can wrong, and since don’t have a crystal ball, it’s hard to predict them all. However, a Plan B or C when possible is not a bad idea.
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Written by: Julie Faulkner