1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600
by Bob Sullo
Table of Contents
Successful teaching requires thorough preparation and lesson planning. In recent years, teachers have become increasingly vigilant about creating lessons with well-defined learning objectives. Identifying what students will learn and be able to do at the conclusion of a lesson maximizes instructional focus and improves teacher effectiveness. Thankfully, the days of teachers "winging it" are largely a thing of the past.
While academic content and defined learning objectives deserve time and attention, it is equally crucial to plan with our students' basic needs in mind. Students are more engaged and productive when they are offered need-satisfying academic activities. To maximize your success as a teacher, be certain that when students do what you want them to do, they can connect with each other, develop increased competence, make choices, and enjoy themselves in a safe, secure environment. When students can satisfy their needs by immersing themselves in the productive academic challenges you create, they will behave appropriately and perform better.
It is common for teachers to carefully consider content and learning objectives as they prepare their lessons. This chapter introduces a simple practice that will maximize your effectiveness by also addressing your students' basic needs as you develop your lessons. This equally important planning strategy will result in lessons that are need-satisfying, academically engaging, and successful.
Our instructional practices have improved dramatically in recent years. The adoption of state standards and curriculum frameworks has resulted in more focused, uniform teaching. When I began teaching in the mid-1970s, it was not uncommon for teachers to teach what they liked. My students learned a lot about Greek mythology and Romantic poetry, primarily because those were topics I knew well and enjoyed teaching. My colleagues in the English department emphasized different topics. Standardization was nonexistent. Today, the curriculum is more uniform and delivered with greater precision. While some might argue that such standardization is too rigid, a mobile society that aspires to provide an equal educational opportunity to all students demands a level of uniformity.
Beyond improvements in curriculum, today's teachers are considerably more aware of the learning objectives for each lesson. In the past, teachers might be able to identify their agenda for the class, but they were less attentive to the desired learning objectives. Teachers knew what they were going to cover, but they weren't necessarily sure what they wanted their students to learn. It's not uncommon today to walk into classrooms and see precise, well-crafted learning objectives clearly posted on the board. This gives teachers and students alike a common understanding of where we're trying to go and what teachers want their students to know and be able to do at the conclusion of the lesson. Such clarity is essential to effective teaching, and we are remarkably better at this than in the past.
When I taught English, I stressed with my students that it is essential to know your audience when you write. The same is true in teaching. Our two areas of greatest improvement in teaching focus on the "what" (the content) and the "where" (the learning objectives) of teaching. It's important to know what you want to teach and where you want your students to go, but to maximize our instructional effectiveness, we need to structure lessons to meet the needs of those we teach (the "who"). Exemplary content and precise learning objectives are necessary but not sufficient. We also must provide instruction that is need-satisfying to our students so that they will be engaged and fully benefit from the wisdom we have to share.
Planning with the students' needs in mind is a simple and powerful process. Intentionally creating lessons and units of instruction that are need-satisfying and sensitive to what drives student behavior will help us reap the benefits of the gains we have made in curriculum and instruction in recent years.
One of the most valuable characteristics of this planning strategy is its simplicity. Teachers are busy enough. They justifiably complain about plates that are too full, and they have little interest in a process that is time-intensive. Planning with the students' needs in mind takes only a few minutes and provides a focus to your lessons that will enhance your effectiveness. After more than 30 years in education, I hesitate to make guarantees. However, if you take the few minutes needed to plan with the students' needs in mind, I guarantee that you will have fewer disruptions in your classroom, that disruptions will be more quickly managed to your satisfaction, and that your students will achieve more.
How can I make such claims? All behavior, including disruptive behavior, is purposeful. We behave to meet our needs. When lessons are structured so that students can meet their needs by doing what the teacher wants, there is naturally a reduction in off-task, disruptive behavior. Even in the best classrooms, there will be the occasional disruption, just as there are arguments even in the best of friendships. In the need-satisfying classroom, however, those rare instances of disruption are handled promptly, just as good friends generally resolve their differences quickly. In a need-satisfying environment, all parties are motivated to put any discord behind them and work together in productive harmony. Finally, because of the reduction in disruptive behavior, students in a need-satisfying classroom engage in more on-task behavior, leading to increased academic achievement—provided there is good instruction, a carefully crafted lesson, and clearly identified learning objectives.
Good teachers who have an agenda, a road map they use to reach the learning objectives at the heart of their lesson, will find that planning with students' needs in mind is quick and easy. If you teach on the secondary level and have the students for a class period, simply identify what you ask the students to do during a given class period and about how much time you think you will spend on each activity. The same applies to specialists at the elementary level who see students for a defined time block for art, music, physical education, and so on. If you are an elementary classroom teacher (or anyone else who has the students for an extended time frame or all day), pick any block of time (for example, from the beginning of the day until recess, from recess until lunch, from lunch until art). For that time block, identify what you ask the students to do and how much time you expect to spend on each activity.
Let's begin by looking at an elementary classroom from the time students enter the classroom until an hour later, when they go to a specialist. The plan book identifies what the teacher wants the students to do and about how long each activity will take. While time guesstimates are often erroneous because of unanticipated interruptions, they are still helpful. Imagine that the following activities are planned for the time block we are considering:
In Chapter 4, you were introduced to the five needs that drive all humans:
We now need to determine if the proposed lesson will be need-satisfying for students. For maximum achievement and minimal disruption, it is essential that doing what the teacher wants allows students to meet their needs.
We do not have to explicitly address the need for power and competence, because everything we ask our students to do builds students' level of competence, assuming we provide a differentiated experience that gives every student a chance to succeed academically. Neither is it necessary to consider the need for safety and security, because in classrooms where students feel insecure and unsafe, teachers are generally aware of the problem and work diligently to address this serious impediment to effective learning.
We will look at the remaining three needs: to connect and belong, to be free and autonomous, and to enjoy ourselves and have fun. For each of the activities being considered, ask the following questions:
If the students engage in this activity the way I would like them to, will they
connect with others and feel a sense of belonging in the classroom?
have some choice about what they do and feel a sense of freedom and autonomy?
enjoy themselves and have fun while being academically productive?
Note that it is not necessary for every activity to address every need area. In fact, that would be virtually impossible. What is essential is that students responsibly satisfy each need for some time by doing what you ask when they are with you. The fact that a given activity may not address certain need areas doesn't matter as long as the teacher is careful to ensure that each need is adequately addressed during the time being considered.
Figure 10.1 illustrates how the teacher planning the above activities might answer these questions. An "X" indicates that the students will satisfy that need when doing the activity. An empty box indicates the students won't meet that need at that time. The chart takes only a couple of minutes to complete, and the teacher then has a visual representation of how need-satisfying the proposed lesson will be for the students.
Teacher reads aloud to whole class
Choice of three activity centers
Transition/prepare for specialist
What does Figure 10.1 reveal? Notice that only two activities address all three need areas. That doesn't mean that they are "better," will be more successful, or are more essential. Two other activities don't intentionally address any of the need areas. Most would agree that getting the students academically productive with morning work is important. It doesn't have to directly address the needs we have identified, because other activities during the lesson allow students to meet these needs easily. While the five-minute transition at the conclusion of the class does not intentionally address any of the listed need areas, either, a smooth transition at the end of class is part of exemplary teaching. Because the students have had so many opportunities to satisfy their needs by doing what the teacher has planned, they will almost assuredly be cooperative and responsible when it's time to get organized and transition to their specialist. If students have not met their needs during the lesson, transition time will be marked by chaos and disruption.
If the information the chart provides shows gaps in addressing students' needs, the teacher can immediately identify the area or areas that are underrepresented. This facilitates a proactive orientation and enables the teacher to take corrective action before initiating a lesson that would be less effective than it will be with minor revision. Figure 10.2 represents a potentially problematic lesson being considered for a secondary school classroom.
Morning work/problem of the day
Introduction of new concept/whole-class instruction
Begin homework/answer individual questions
We can immediately see that the teacher has planned activities that make it easy for students to connect for 30 minutes and to have fun for 25 minutes. Even though only two activities in Figure 10.2 address those needs, they are sufficiently lengthy that students can satisfy these needs reasonably well while being academically productive.
However, a quick glance at Figure 10.2 shows that students cannot satisfy their need for freedom and autonomy by doing what the teacher has planned. This is not to say that the proposed activities are less valuable, but a lesson that offers no freedom to students invites problems. Fortunately, the teacher can utilize the information provided by Figure 10.2 to modify the proposed lesson, increase student engagement, and curtail disruption.
Teachers who do not plan with their students' needs in mind run the risk of creating lessons that ignore one or more of the basic needs. Using Figure 10.2 as a reference point, what happens when a teacher provides a lesson with no freedom offered to the students? That depends on both the students and the time of day. If the class is held in the morning, the teacher may get lucky and have a successful lesson with no disruption and high productivity. If there are students in the class with a strong need for freedom, however, even an early-morning class will be problematic. "High-freedom" students will do whatever is necessary to get the freedom they crave. (Remember, all behavior is purposeful.) Since there is no way to satisfy the need for freedom in this lesson by doing what the teacher asks, some students will disrupt the class—even if they do not intend to be disruptive.
If the lesson depicted in Figure 10.2 is offered later in the day, the likelihood of disruption increases exponentially. Especially if they have had very few opportunities to responsibly satisfy their need for freedom throughout the day, students will be more at risk for engaging in inappropriate behavior. Everywhere I travel, teachers tell me that there are more disruptions and office referrals later in the day than in the morning. That is because too many teachers create lessons that don't allow students to get the freedom they need responsibly. By the afternoon, many students are so driven by the unmet need for freedom that disruption is rampant.
How can a teacher be proactive and use the information Figure 10.2 provides? When I ask this question in workshops, teachers quickly come up with simple solutions to infuse freedom into this lesson. Some ideas are
It's not important that you implement all of these suggestions. For example, if you think it's crucial that every student answer every question on the quiz, then don't offer choice on the quiz. Determine where you can provide choice without compromising your teaching objective. What is essential is that students are given the opportunity to have freedom and make choices within your classroom. If they are not given those opportunities, you invite trouble and less productivity into your classroom.
Figure 10.2 illustrates a proposed lesson that lacks freedom. Sometimes you will discover that what you are considering doesn't give students a chance to connect with each other and satisfy the drive to belong. Other times, you may have a number of valid activities on the agenda but no activities planned in which students can have fun and enjoy themselves. By tweaking your plans, you can save your lesson from being ravaged by disruption and create a classroom that will be engaging for all students.
I have shared the concept of planning with the students' needs in mind with thousands of teachers. When they see how little time it takes and the considerable benefits of the process, many are eager to incorporate it into their daily lesson planning. The feedback I have received confirms that this is a simple, time-efficient way to ensure that your lessons will be need-satisfying for your students. Combined with effective instructional strategies and clearly identified learning objectives, planning with students' needs in mind will reduce disruption in your classroom and enhance your effectiveness as a teacher.
Copyright © 2009 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication—including the drawings, graphs, illustrations, or chapters, except for brief quotations in
critical reviews or articles—may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from ASCD.
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our free e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.