Before this year, I thought I was a pretty good lesson planner. Turns out, I was good at following a book and a routine. My textbook was set up with two lessons per unit, and two points of grammar per lesson. So day 1 was new vocab day, day 2 was new grammar 1, day 3 was a practice day, day 4 was new grammar 2, and day 5 was another practice. Then, we did about a week of various practice activities, games, and quizzes, and then we moved on to lesson 2, repeated, and then took a unit test.
I can’t claim that my students didn’t learn anything. Some of them did, and some of them learned a lot. We all know those kids. But I was consistently giving failing grades on tests and balancing them out with homework. Kids were cramming and not internalizing. They certainly couldn’t go far beyond and reach into real creation with the language, and they often struggled to remember the rules that we had learned one or two units back.
Most of us have been there, right. And most of us are changing or have changed or want to change. This year was the big change for me, and I realized, I’m actually not so good at lesson planning. Around mid to late fall, I realized that I was majorly losing focus in my units with my 2s-4s. With the 1s it’s easier – they’re so limited that I have to have really specific goals and ideas. But with the others, I was floundering. I felt like I had planned so much – I had my summative assessments all ready to go (ha!), I had goals and I Can statements for the units and even resources planned. But I didn’t know what I was doing or when, and I found myself jumping from topic to topic and never giving any one thing the attention it needed.
So I was reading on a blog (maybe Creative Language Class?) about daily I Can statements. I thought, “that’s too much work. I can’t do that for all the different classes I teach. As long as I’m working toward my broader I Can statements, then I’m doing enough.” Except that I wasn’t. So I tried it. I opened my daily planner, and my unit overview, and looked at my summative assessment, and tried to plan I Can statements that led up to my end goals for the unit. I started at the end of the unit, right before the summative assessment, and basically took the things I wanted the kids to do for the IPA and made them the goals for the last week. Then I asked myself “What’s one step below that?” or “What’s one skill that builds into that final goal?” and those became the I Can statements for the 2nd to last week. Lather, rinse, repeat, until I just can’t think of anything else.
That process has never yet taken me all the way to the beginning of the unit. So then, I take another look at my plans, and I think, “Okay, what are the most basic parts of this?” Usually, it starts with vocab, so my first day or two are about identifying and using vocabulary related to the unit. And then I think about what we have done recently that can be recycled with this new vocabulary, or how we can use “old” words to learn new structures. And I start bridging the gap between the beginning of the unit and wherever I left off working backwards.
Seriously, this has changed my teaching this year. It gives me focus. It lets me know what I want to get done each day and each week. It allows me to figure out the perfect place to utilize a particular resource. It lets me know how I’m going to build tomorrow on what we did today. It helps me see the connection from the beginning of the unit to the end, and it makes me accountable for really teaching everything that’s going to be on the IPA, even though I’m not following a book.
Is it perfect? No. I’m still not a great planner, and sometimes I realize that I didn’t plan enough, or they’re getting it faster (or slower) than I anticipated. Sometimes, when I look at the next day’s plans, I think, “We really did that yesterday” and I need to change focus or dig deeper for the next day. Sometimes snow days wipe a week out of the schedule and kids (and I) come back rusty and not ready for a full day of work. Sometimes I still skip around. I think, “I don’t really want to do that today. Let’s do this instead.” But when that happens, it’s usually just changing the order of things. I’ll still hit what I skipped, because otherwise the ladder I’ve constructed to go from the beginning of the unit to the end will be missing a rung. Sometimes it works better to have something that I had originally planned for tomorrow today and save today’s plans for tomorrow.
And is it really more work? No. My goal was always to outline the whole unit in advance anyway, and this actually makes it easier. It gives me a format and a method that I can follow for every unit, and, once I have a specific goal for each day, planning activities is much easier.
Wherever I originally read about this idea, the person said that they share the day’s I Can with the students every day. I haven’t done that yet, but it’s definitely something I want to integrate next year. The kids have general ideas about my (our) goals for the unit, but I think letting them know what we’re working on today will help. I just have to figure out how I want to share them (a slide projected at the beginning of class? But I start class with a music video every day, and I don’t want to give that up), and how much emphasis I want to put on them each day.
This is definitely an area where I’m still learning and improving, but in the 4 months or so that I’ve been doing it, it’s become a very important part of my planning. I can tell that I’m getting better at it (both writing them and sticking to them) with practice, too.