The summer is coming to an end and it’s the perfect time to start thinking about this year’s classes and planning them. So, what are some things we need to consider when planning?
- Student learning objectives for the course. What do we want students to get out of the class? What knowledge should they have? What skills should they have? If you focus more on “skills” than “knowledge,” the class can go at whatever pace it needs to go and you won’t race to make sure your history class covers everything from the foundation of Rome to the fall of Rome in 476–over one thousand years of history. Instead, you can focus more on what students need to know to be a good historian. Will it matter if they covered the subject matter until Hadrian or Constantine rather than to Romulus Augustulus, if they have been trained as a historian and can do it themselves?
- Determine how to measure the learning objectives. Each objective should be measurable and testable. So determine how you will measure students’ understanding of the concept, idea, or skill: is a multiple choice test the best way? An essay test? A final paper? An oral presentation? An oral interview with you? A group project? An “epic finale“? Use your answers to these questions as the major grades for the class.
- Determine daily/weekly/monthly learning objectives. Once you know how you will test the students for the course, you can determine how to walk your students through the new skills and ideas they need to learn. Each of these steps can be a learning objectives for a day, week, or month depending on how carefully you want to or need to plan. Remember to allow for flexibility if you need to adjust these plans later in the semester.
- Plan each day with this pattern in mind:
Warm-up/bell activity: assess and review prior knowledge. In a Latin class, you can go over homework, review morphology relevant to today’s class, etc. In a history or cultural class, you can have your students say what you talked about in the previous class, or you can review a recent skill by reading and quickly discussing an inscription, an object, or a paragraph of text. I would suggest making sure this warm-up is both a good review and a good, logical lead-in to the lesson. This will help students reacquaint themselves with your class and what they need to know.
Introduction: introduce today’s topic and clearly communicate the learning objectives for the lesson. Find a way to make it interesting for the students by relating the topic to their own lives, and/or saying why today’s lesson will help them. Depending on the topic, asking questions to gauge their prior knowledge may be beneficial here (obviously better in a cultural class than in an intro language class where you have taught them everything they know).
Presentation: present the lesson’s material as clearly as possible. You may consider using various visual, oral, aural, etc. means to present the topic and skill. Gauge students’ understanding as you go by reading their facial expression and asking questions.
Practice: model the skills and guide the students through practice using them. In a Latin class, translate a sentence with indirect statement yourself and then work through another sentence with indirect statement. In a history class, explain what kinds of things are recorded in inscriptions, interpret one and then ask your students to explain another. This may be a good time to have students work in groups while you circulate and help them translate and/or interpret the text in front of them.
Evaluation: make sure the students are understanding the material. As you circulate around the groups, are students understanding the material? In a class discussion, are students answering questions “correctly” and coherently? The way you evaluate students–and ideally all students, not the most talkative ones–here should be based on how you can actually measure the lesson’s learning objective.
Application/homework: students apply the skills they learned in the lesson. They read sentences with indirect statement, they answer questions about several inscriptions. They show they know this skill and reinforce their knowledge of the skill brought practice.
These steps and ideas are a little fluid. Presentation, practice, and evaluation may all blend together. The important thing is that you are aware if your students are learning the new lesson and meeting the lesson’s and course’s learning objectives. Test grades should not be a surprise. Depending on how students are learning, speed up or slow down.
Of course, these ideas may be harder to apply to some classes than others. Latin classes are often conceived of as a skill class, but history classes are often about learning “the material.” Should we be reinvisioning how we teach our students? Is all education really about teaching skills within the backdrop of teaching “hard facts”?
***This blog post based on experience and https://teal.ed.gov/tealguide/lessonplanning which contains references to scholarship on this too.***