For the past few years, I've come to plan my lessons out very simply: beginning, middles, end.
In my new book, I represent this idea using the following graphic:
But in my day-to-day teaching, it actually looks like this:
(Note: in general classes, the “Homework” piece is called “Walk Away.”)
Now like any tool, the power isn't in the tool — it's in the user. If you go and copy this format and don't understand what you're doing or why you're doing it, it won't do you much good. So your goal with tool use, always, has to be deeply understanding the tool and thereby growing in your proficiency not just of its use but of teaching in general.
It's kind of like Doug Stark's popular Mechanics Instruction that Sticks warm-ups curriculum. Secondary English teachers around the world love this curriculum because it's just such a doggone effective tool. But the folks who get the most bang for their buck from it are the folks who understand what the tools is for, how it works, how it's best used, and so on.
Good tools are great, but expertise?
Expertise is power.
So what's going on with this simple slideshow tool that I use each day?
At the start of class, I've got to have something meaningful for students to do. It's best for them, and it's best for me.
- Socially, it helps us transition from hallway mode to class mode.
- Intellectually, it primes their minds for today's learning.
- Volitionally, it gets them exerting their wills toward learning right away.
- Emotionally, it lets students know what to expect when class starts, which creates the safety that comes through consistency.
- And for me, it lets me maintain my sanity, get my bearings, survey the faces in the room, take attendance, complete some MGCs or a 2×10, and so on.
So, what do I have them do? 95% of the time, I have them do the same exact thing: provisional writing. Why? Because:
- It's hard.
- It requires focus.
- It unlocks thinking.
- I can quickly walk around the room and see how students are doing.
- I can point it in any direction — prompts are up to me.
- It settles the room.
- It drastically increases writing volume over time. (See pp. 172-174 of These 6 Things for why this is so important and Ch 6 in general for how to make writing a much simpler and more powerful part of classes in any content area.)
In this particular lesson, I had my students respond to the following prompts in Canvas:
(Forgive all the silly language [i.e., Wedsie]; too much coffee today, apparently.)
The warm-up concludes with me briefly explaining where we're going in today's lesson and what we're trying to achieve.
This is where I insert 2-3 learning activities that we're going to complete in the lesson.
These are always, always some variation of the basic moves I write about in These 6 Things. The six things are:
- Key beliefs
Seriously: the activities are always some mixture of those things. Those are the only things I am good at using to develop student mastery. But, because there are so few things and because I've been studying and practicing them for so long, I've become excellent at weaving them together to make functional, enjoyable lessons. And I think they apply very broadly across the school day, so long as you never lose sight of your goal of increasing student mastery in your content area.
Specifically, in this particular lesson my students and I did these things:
- In this chunk, I was trying to:
- Give students more reps at public speaking
- Introduce a new part of Palmer's PVLEGS to their notes
- Cultivate each of the Five Key Beliefs from The Will to Learn:
- Credibility: I care enough to take time once in a while to insist that they reflect on what high school is doing for them.
- Value: I emphasize to them after this debate that they just practiced coming up with their own reason to value school (this is Strategy 6 in WTL, “Valued Within”).
- Effort: By teaching PVLEGS, I'm teaching them specifically how to get better at public speaking (our focus was eye contact).
- Efficacy: For my kids who are nervous about public speaking, I'm giving them another experience of success in this challenging area.
- Belonging: By requiring everyone to stand up and speak in pop-up debate, I'm letting student behavior shape student identity.
In-Class Activity 2: Here, I was giving my students whole-class feedback on two areas of weakness that I noticed in their writing assessment (SAQ = Short Answer Question) from two days prior.
- Un- or Under-explained answers
To do this, I had students:
- Start a fresh page in their spiral notebooks, labeling it “How to Strengthen my Writing”
- Examine an anonymous example of student writing that was correct but vague
- I displayed it on the screen and read it to them.
- I asked them if the answer was correct (it was).
- I asked them to discuss in pairs how to make the answer more specific.
- I used index cards (see pp. 41-43 and 222 in These 6 Things) to randomly call on several students for their ideas.
- I revised the vague example on the screen using the student-provided ideas.
- Examine an anonymous example of student writing that was correct but unexplained
- Same basic process as above
- Record in their spiral notebooks what they take away from revising these two examples
In this chunk, I'm trying to:
- Improve common problems in student writing
- Improve the quality of student thinking
- Cultivate the Five Key Beliefs by:
- Credibility: Demonstrating that I know how to help them get better at writing
- Value: Demonstrating that writing is important enough to revisit, revise, and improve
- Effort: Demonstrating that vague and unexplained writing are key areas for focusing one's effort as a writer
- Efficacy: Demonstrating that improving a short answer question (SAQ) is doable
- Belonging: Saying a few times that these two mistakes were very common on our Unit 2 assessments
In-Class Activity 3: Here, I intended for students to review material learned in the previous two lessons via an SAQ quiz. These were the prompts:
In this chunk, I'm trying to:
- Have students immediately practice what we just learned
- Have students practice retrieving information that they've been learning recently
My lesson endings are not anything special.
- In an AP class: what's the homework, why is it the homework, what specific things should students be mindful of when applying effort on the homework
- In a general class: what's the walk away question for the day (time-permitting, we'll treat this with a Think-Pair-Share; I share tons of tactical thoughts on TPS in These 6 Things on pp. 208-212, 209f, 211f, 218-219)
If time permits, I may also add a mini-sermon here.
What I hope you notice in this brief article is that my simple slides hide a LOT of intentionality and strategy. The slide isn't magic.
If you organize your lessons this way, lesson clarity and student growth are totally up to you. You can't lean on the slides to help you. You've got to understand what you and the students are doing, why you're doing these things, and the simple moves that help these things produce as much learning as possible in a given day.
Best to you, colleague,