Organize to Simplify: Four Steps to Organizing your Lesson Planning Process
Lesson planning. Two words that elicit either joy or dread in the hearts of most teachers. As one of the most important parts of our job, it often consumes the largest chunk of our time. Without a systematic structure in place for planning, the process can leave you frustrated and without positive results.
This week, I'll bring you three posts about lesson planning. Today's focus is on four steps to bringing organization to the process of planning. Tomorrow's post is all about an approach to planning that worked wonders in my classroom. And last, on Thursday, I'll give you tips on planning for a substitute.
For today's topic, I've created a new set of pages to help you organize your thoughts and write notes as you go. It might be beneficial to complete the pages first before reading the post. You can add notes and new ideas while reading.
Four steps to organizing your lesson planning process
1. Start with a yearly plan. I'm a big picture kind of girl. And I honestly believe that in order to be a successful teacher, you have to think big picture. Teaching is like taking a nine-month road trip. You need to know your final destination before you can start planning stops along the way. And a yearly plan is your trusty road map to make sure you reach each destination successfully. An annual guide charts all of the content that must be taught in a year and contains specific stopping points where units end. If you're trying to plan daily (or even weekly) lessons without a year's plan in hand, you're going to end up spinning your wheels. Truly.
Each district handles curriculum maps (pacing charts, curriculum guides, etc.) differently. Some allow each grade level to develop their own while others assign this duty to curriculum support staff. If you don't have one, seek one out immediately. Summer is the perfect time to tweak yearly plans, making small adjustments based on experiences from last year.
2. Have a systematic structure for mapping units. Once you have your annual plan, start breaking out content into specific units. Tomorrow I will tell you all about the approach I use that, in my opinion, is simply the best. It isn't easy, and takes some getting used to, but I promise the work is worth it! I won't spend time on this point today, but encourage you to come back tomorrow to hear all about it.
Regardless of your choice, just have a method! Choose a system that is structured and reliable. If you're not up for my recommended approach, seek out the opinions of seasoned teachers you respect. See what type of process works well for them. As in all aspects of teaching, having a mentor in the planning process is priceless.
3. Set a dedicated time for planning. Do you have a weekly or monthly time that you devote to lesson planning? If not, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Consider it a date with your planner and schedule it on your calendar if you must. This step is crucial if you want to make planning a priority and end up with results that work.
I had two recurring dates. The first Saturday of the month was dedicated to planning upcoming units while Thursday nights were reserved for creating plans for the following week. When making weekly plans, I used my unit plans and incorporated reflections from the previous week. If specific aspects of lessons went well - I tried to recreate those during the next week. And if certain lessons needed reteaching or adjusting, I allotted time for this as well. My weekly planning time also was used to collect teaching and student materials, make copies, and sort resources into daily trays so that I was well prepared for the following week. Completing this task on Thursday nights freed up my weekends and ensured that Monday went smoothly.
Unless something important came up in my family, these "dates" were set in stone. I didn't skip them to go out with the girls or leave early because I was tired. Organizing my schedule to have dedicated planning time was one of the best things I did to improve my experience as a teacher. It improved my lesson plans while saving me valuable time.
4. Use a planning form. In my years of teaching, I've used stacks of different planning forms. Initially, I used forms created by others, but never found one that totally worked with my method of planning or my schedule. My personal form has gone through various changes and gets updated each year for my specific schedule.
Regardless of whether you create your own or use someone else's, be sure to have a consistent form. My weekly form was rather lengthy, but it had space for each lesson component such as Reading Workshop Mini-lesson, Writing Conferences, and Genius Hour. I also had specific notes typed on the form that reminded me of important events such as sending a group of students to a peer's class each week for buddy reading. If you're just starting out, borrow a template from a colleague and keep notes on parts you'd like to adapt for your own needs.
Having a set template not only saves you time, but also comes in handy when you're being observed. In some schools, having visible lesson plans is mandatory. But even if it's not required in your building, having your weekly plans out on your desk helps build confidence in the eyes of your administrator. It also serves as justification for choices made while teaching.
In the coming weeks, we'll talk about organizing the resources you use while teaching. But organizing your planning process is crucial to mastering before you tackle the curriculum itself. I would love to hear what works for you in planning your lessons. What structure do you use currently? What makes it successful for you?
Be sure to see my guest post on The Cornerstone about using the UbD approach to lesson planning.
To start from the beginning of the series, click here!