Lesson Design: Beginning, Middle, and End Objectives, Not Just Activities
Lesson plans often end up as just a series of disconnected learning activities. No matter how engaging or important these activities may be, they are not enough to indicate whether a student has actually learned. You must design lessons that unfurl like a powerful storyline, centered on achievable learning objectives.
The Beginning: Hook Them and Establish Learning Targets
A developing instructor might begin by introducing a topic and announcing, "We're going to take notes!" Although summarizing and note-taking comprise one of Marzano's nine high-yield instructional strategies, they are not a replacement for a well-crafted learning target, nor are they the best way to grab a student's attention and generate engagement.
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Moss and Brookhart identified learning targets as a primary component of effective teaching and successful student learning. Let's say you've established a meaningful target for an eighth grade history lesson: By the end of the lesson, students will understand and be able to describe the various strategies employed to bring the French into the Revolutionary War. Why jump right into notes and kill the mood? Why not, in the first thirty seconds of class, simply ask: "Why did Benjamin Franklin wear a little furry hat?"
The "hook" for the lesson then becomes a quick discussion and brainstorming session as to why Franklin had a penchant for fuzzy headwear, followed by a brief video clip (see 11:23 through 14:06) regarding Franklin's time at the French Court. The pump has been primed. Like a powerful television cold opening or scintillating movie trailer, you've whetted student appetites for more.
The Middle: Leave No Child Behind
They're hooked. Now reel them in! When planning learning activities aligned to the day's objective:
- Differentiate—Beyond learning styles, have you set up learning activities to differentiate in terms of content, processes, and products?
- Plan for engagement—Station-based activities and/or several smaller beginnings and endings can help keep students hooked and on-task.
- Stretch them—Plan questions and activities that help students reach increasingly complex levels of a cognitive model such as Bloom's Taxonomy or Webb's Depth of Knowledge.
- Refer back to the learning target(s) frequently—Everything should build toward mastery of the day's objective(s).
Let's say you're planning a learning activity in a math classroom in which the objective requires students to write numbers using scientific notation. Instead of "drill-and-kill" teaching, you decide to rotate students through three stations. One station is the teacher's, where she works with students at the interactive whiteboard. At another station, students may select a scientific notation game to play with a partner, such as a memory game in which students must flip over cards and match numbers written in scientific notation with a "standard" version. At the third station, students work independently on devices to create "Did You Know?" style flashcards to share with the class during closure.
The End: Closure and Assessment
Closure may be the most important part of any lesson, because you get the chance to find out if - and what, specifically - students have learned. Yet closure is frequently haphazard or not present at all. When closure becomes solely a laundry list of "to do" items, like announcements and homework reminders, you've lost the most valuable five to ten minutes of the day. To tell the truth, if you really want to start planning great lessons, your closing assessment should be the first thing you plan, not the last.
Perhaps you've just taught a killer lesson on pulling evidence from informational text to support a claim. Instead of sending students home to compose a paragraph response aligned with the day's lesson, make that paragraph their "exit ticket" from class. Assigned as homework, half the class probably wouldn't do it. Assigned as an exit slip, you can ensure that 100% of your students will provide you with meaningful feedback on what they learned that day.
The activity doesn't have to be an exit ticket. There are dozens of creative ways to ascertain what students have learned. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking each individual student "what have you learned today?" Like the satisfying ending of every page-turning beach read in which you've ever indulged, every good lesson should have closure that ties up loose ends, tells you that students met the objectives for the day, and provides you with information to drive the next day's instruction.
The Role of Technology
Too often, we show a video clip or reference a website during lessons and say we "incorporated technology," but that's just direct substitution of a digital tool for an analog one. To truly unleash the power of tech, you should look to the higher levels of a model such as the SAMR model as akin to the "creating" level of Bloom's. In other words, can you incorporate technology in such a way that students create something new? For example, instead of writing a summary of their notes, students could synthesize all they have learned about a topic into a podcast, or create their own web quests.
A good learning management system (LMS) can help facilitate this technology integration. A video hook could be presented ahead of time and a student podcast can be created, uploaded, and shared via the school's LMS. There are unlimited ways to seamlessly incorporate technology into your lessons in this way.
Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
In the words of Joseph Joubert, "To teach is to learn twice." As with everything you do, take the time to step back and reflect on the objectives you set and the methods you used to ensure student learning. Reflection will yield powerful insights as you continue to develop compelling lessons for and with your students.