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Powerful Lesson Planning
October 27, 2016 | Volume 12 | Issue 4
Table of Contents
Eight Standards for Putting Skills First in Any Lesson Plan
I used to recall my first year of teaching with great affection. I thought it was awesome. All stakeholders—students, parents, and administration—seemed impressed with my work. Everyone was happy, and I approached the next year with the mindset of "more of the same."
Fast forward 15 years or so, and I rediscovered my old lesson planning book from that first, iconic year. I dusted off that tome (beneath a pile of doting "thank you" cards from parents and students) as if I were discovering a signed copy of a Beatles album in the attic. I scanned the old lesson plans. To my horror, they were awful—lower-order thinking skills, closed activities, a teacher-centered classroom, and token gestures toward differentiation. It was everything we expect our classrooms not to look like in 2016. In my myopic focus on delivering content, I was keeping students from developing deep, transferable skills that would serve them throughout their lives.
I've since discovered that focusing on skill development, rather than just content acquisition, yields lessons that are both rigorous and engaging. These lessons also age well and can be used in subsequent years, making them time savers for busy teachers, too.
I reached this epiphany about skills-centered classrooms while leading a workshop on how to avoid teaching math misconceptions. Initially, the presentation focused on what not to do. But as the presentation progressed, I wanted to make teachers aware of what they should be doing. I found the answer when I took a closer look at the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP). Although our presentation only briefly touched on these standards, I quickly realized that if teachers applied the SMPs to all of their lessons, they would produce powerful lessons for students. This doesn't just apply to math lessons. Take a look at how teachers can apply SMPs across the curriculum.
These examples are culled from just the first three of the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. Teaching in such a way saves teachers valuable instructional time because they don't have to explain and use a different set of skills and parameters in each subject. Elementary school teachers can teach across multiple curricular areas. When we use these standards to drive our lesson planning, we are no longer exclusively developing a math lesson or a reading lesson. We are increasing learning across all content areas because students can apply these skills beyond any single lesson.
Best of all, applying these standards leads teachers to conduct student-centered, rigorous lessons that supply students with skills that will follow them into content areas, grades, and, ultimately, the world beyond school. Students will forget much of the content we teach by the time they graduate. They will get jobs we don't yet know exist. It is these skills that our students will take out into the world, not the content. Didau (2011) sums it up best, "[W]e have a responsibility to teach content in a way that also teaches skills, dispositions and competencies needed to make our children indispensable in an uncertain future."
So teach with a skills-first mindset and reduce the risk of looking at your lesson planning book with embarrassment years from now. Skills-first lesson planning drives student-centered, higher-order thinking lessons across curricula—lessons that are likely to make the cut in next year's planning book and prepare students for a world we don't yet know.
Didau, D. (2011, Nov. 22). "Should we be teaching knowledge or skills?" The Guardian Teacher's Network Blog. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2011/nov/22/knowledge-or-skills-solo-taxonomy
Michael Mahoney is an education consultant for the Center for Urban Affairs at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
ASCD Express, Vol. 12, No. 4. Copyright 2016 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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