The Foundation of a Successful Class Period in 4 Steps

Planning for Learning: A How-To

1. Start with an OBJECTIVE!

This has been a MAJOR FOCUS on my campus the past 2 years.  I can't stress this one enough. The only way to successfully plan your teaching is to begin with the objective in mind.  This should be a measurable learning outcome that students need to know or be able to do by the end of the class. The objective you post should include what the students need to know AND how they will learn it.  Having this specific and measurable focus prevents the teacher with feeling the need to fill the valuable class time with information that isn't necessary.  It's all about "staying in your lane" and most importantly, the kids want and need to know what you expect them to know. 

I always post Guiding Questions on the board right next to the objective.  This helps students focus on the exact questions that they should be able to answer by the end of the lesson or unit. 
Here is an example:
Students should know that the changes in the moon's phases are due to changes in the angle between the Sun, Moon, and Earth by conducting the Lunar Lollipop Investigation. 

It is specific and kid-friendly.  Students know what they need to know and how they will learn it. 

2. Plan for Mastery

You, the teacher, have about 45 minutes  (or more, if you're lucky) to have every student meet your objective. In my example, this means you have 45 minutes for your students to learn and demonstrate mastery of the cause of moon phases. 

How in the world will you do it? If you're asking yourself this question, you're off to a great start. You've successfully changed your focus from filling time to using time. Answering this question is the reason you get a paycheck - this is your job. You are an expert in getting kids to learn. Not only that, but you need to continue to get better at it.    


This step involves...
  • Planning Activities
  • Preparing Materials
  • Preplanning Questions (yes, preplanning) and
  • Synthesizing everything into a smooth, focused lesson

Most importantly, don't attempt to do this step alone - COLLABORATE!  Hopefully, you have a strong, collaborative staff to help you. Discussing lessons with peers, asking others for feedback, and reflection (both self-reflection and group reflection) are powerful tools that will foster improved teaching and learning.  We, as teachers, must be life-long learners.  If you ever reach a point in which you think your way is the only way, you have completely closed the door on learning.  Keep an open mind, be willing to do things differently and always leave room for change.  Our student population is ever-changing and we must be able to adapt and change with them.   
3. Frame the Learning
The importance of framing is never better demonstrated than when seen from the student perspective. (Newer teachers, I urge you to seek out peers who excel at this and watch them in action)! This is an extremely powerful learning tool. Framing the learning involves explicitly communicating to students what they need to know or be able to do by the end of class.
In addition, it may involve...
-Explaining how you're going to help them get there. 
-Activating prior knowledge.
-Asking a question to help students begin to explore the topic.
In my example, this could be as simple as saying, "Please take a look at your objective. Today, by the end of class, you need to be able to describe what causes the moon's appearance to change. Are there any questions of what is expected of you by the end of class today?"  I often go as far as telling them what question they will have to be able to answer on their Exit Ticket out of my room. 
To me, this is so important that I use anywhere from 1-3 of my 45 minutes covering it each day.
It's worth it - every day.
4. Summarize the Learning
Ok, you've set an objective, framed the learning for students, and planned and implemented a lesson for mastery.  DO NOT let the lesson simply end with the bell - end the lesson purposefully by summarizing the learning with which students should be walking away!

Summarizing could include any of the following:
  • An Exit Ticket
    • Asking a specific content-related question or more general questions like...
      • What was one thing you learned today?
      • How does today's lesson impact your understanding about .....?
      • How would you summarize today's lesson for someone who wasn't here?
      • What "a-ha" did you have today?
      • What was the most difficult concept in today's lesson?
      • What should I review further in our next lesson?
    • Ask students to write down  one potential test question from today's lesson.  Collect them as students leave the room.  Hang onto them - you may wish to use one or two on an upcoming quiz/test.
  • If you are running short on time:
    • on a scale of 1-5 (using your fingers) rate today's lesson.  (Have everyone close their eyes to eliminate peer pressure or embarrassment.)
    • As you leave today, I'll be at the door.  Please share with me one word or concept you learned today.
  • A simple closure comment, such as:
    • Today we learned this....tomorrow we will continue by doing...
    • Tonight you will show that you learned ... by completing the homework tonight.
Saying goodbye is an opportunity to build up individual relationships with your students, which helps build a positive classroom culture. 
For me personally, this is often the most difficult step.  I've had to make a concerted effort to do a better job of this and I've asked many of my peers and instructional coaches HOW to efficiently do this.  After getting all of the helpful feedback from many sources, I had to decide on a method that would work best for my classroom.  I am still not at the point of doing this every single day, but several times a week is a vast improvement for me.  


I usually include the Exit Ticket for the day as part of the handouts my students pick up on their way into my classroom (big time saver!).  It also allows the students to begin thinking about how they will respond to the question(s) they must answer before leaving my classroom.  (I used to worry about giving the question(s) to the students ahead of time, for fear that they may just get the answer from a classmate, but a peer that I have a lot of respect for asked me “Why would that be such a bad thing?”.  After thinking about it, I decided that maybe it wasn’t.  They are using their resources and ultimately reaching that final goal of being able to explain what I wanted them to know by the end of the class period.)  There are some learners that are able to express their thoughts with ease, while others prefer to discuss things with a peer in order to meet the final learning goal.  I don’t “grade” the Exit Tickets; I simply use them as a gauge to determine whether or not my students learned what I expected them to learn.  So, having students pick up the Exit Tickets at the beginning of class is what works best for me.   
I often get so caught up in the lesson that I forget to stop in time to allow students to fill out and turn in the Exit Ticket, so I’ve assigned the task of time-keeping to my most responsible students.  You would be surprised; this is often a great job for your ADD/ADHD students.  Or even the student who is constantly checking the clock because they can’t wait to go to the next class (you know the one!).  No matter where we are in the lesson, when time is up, we stop.  I’ve recently added another component of clean-up to this.  When there is 5 minutes remaining in the period and time is called, students are not allowed to start working on their Exit Tickets until EVERYONE is cleaned up, backpacks are packed up and everyone is seated.  This really motivates those slow-to-pack-up students to hustle and not keep the rest of the class waiting on him/her.  
Like framing, the power and importance of a good summary is most easily visible from the student perspective. Opening and closing the learning both work to focus students on the objective, and are well worth the time they require.


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