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Break the concepts down hierarchically. First, identify what prior knowledge students must have to be successful in the new task. Then break the current task down into steps—what must be understood first in order to understand the complete concept?

“So what would students need to know from prior experience in order to be ready to move forward?” “How would you break this concept down into parts?” “Which part of this concept do you think students need to understand first?”

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6. Have the teacher state the objective (Big Idea) in kid-friendly language exactly as he/she plans to say it to the class, and have the teacher explain how he/she plans to display the objectives.

“How will you present the objectives to the class?” “Say it out loud now just as if you were talking to the class.” “How will you present the information? On the board? PowerPoint?”

7. Ask the teacher how he/she plans to track student progress and understanding.

“How will you know if students are understanding or not?” “Will you have an assessment?”

8. Summarize. Have the teacher summarize exactly what he/she wants the students to learn. Summarize the accomplishments of the conference thus far.

“So if you were to go around and interview the students at the end of the day, what would you want them to tell you to show they really understood?” “So far, I think we have really gotten clear on the con tent and defined the objectives, which are . . .”

9. Now you are ready to jump into the activities. Make sure the activities relate directly to the objectives and that they do not require students to deal with too many variables.

“OK, so now what are you going to have the students do?”



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pp Make sure the objectives identified are worthy objectives. Do not allow objectives to focus on anything but content and make sure that the selected objective is really worthwhile.

pp Make sure to focus on specific definitions, avoid generalities, and avoid such language as “stuff ” and “things.”

pp Focus on understanding versus the mechanics of completing a task or operation.

The following is a list of things the teacher should bring to the meeting:

Basic Level

pp Ask the teacher to bring all the materials that he/she plans to use, in- cluding books, worksheets, homework, and assessments.

pp Ask the teacher to prepare the objective in kid-friendly language.

More Advanced

pp Ask the teacher to break the concepts up in a hierarchical order.

pp Ask the teacher to bring any examples of prior student work that might be relevant.

Example 2: Content Analysis Video

Notice which of the guidelines are followed by the peer in the conference (in this case, Jon Saphier) in the video. The result of this brief content-analysis conversa- tion is that Ms. Jordan plans a much better lesson, and all the ideas come from her. She realizes that “respiration” is a system that consists of six sub-processes and makes a chart that shows how they relate to each other.

Then as she goes through the 3-day lesson sequence, she continually points out to students where they are in the development of the process. Of course, she makes a point of highlighting the confusion that comes out in the planning con- versation, namely that “respiration” is a chemical reaction in the cell, in fact, in all cells of the body.

Content analysis is a large gap in teacher preparation and professional develop- ment that has significant negative consequences for learning. Content analysis is not the same as content knowledge. You can’t know what respiration is without

Video: Content Analysis



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taking apart the sequence and relationships of the concepts within the respira- tory system so as to make them clear and accessible to learners.

Example 3: Concept Map Video

Concept maps represent a visible representation of content analysis. In this vid- eo of a high-functioning grade-level PLC (Professional Learning Community), check out the concept map these fifth-grade teachers construct and then use to isolate what they will reteach to their students.

Example 4: Content Analysis Video

This is another example of content analysis. Learning the meaning of fractions and how to do mathematical operations with them is a benchmark in mathe- matics. Failure to understand these operations beyond application of rote al- gorithms becomes a serious obstacle to progress in algebra in eighth grade and beyond. So it is important for teachers dealing with student understanding of fractions to understand the hierarchy of concepts that makes up this constella- tion of understandings.

Also available on The Skillful Teacher website at www.RBTeach.com/TST7 are scripts and sample dialogs that illustrate Planning Conferences in a number of different disciplines.

This chapter has been about the significance of clear thinking about objectives and how such thinking creates an objective that can serve as the control tower to lesson planning. In the next chapter, we spell out the dimensions of how such planning should proceed.

Videos: Concept Map, Content Analysis


Planning Conferences



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Twelve Steps for Developing a Clear Objective:

1. Identify the most worthwhile objective. 2. Determine whether students have adequate prior knowledge. 3. Compose the objective in mastery language. 4. Post the objective. 5. Communicate the objective in student friendly language. 6. Check for understanding. 7. Tell the students the steps to meet the “Learning Target.” 8. Get the students to understand why the “Learning Target” is worth learning. 9. Establish the criteria for success you would take as evidence of mastery. 10. Have students self-evaluate according to the criteria for success. 11. Return to what the objective is at least once during the lesson and again at the end. 12. Provide for thinking-skill objectives that the students might have to learn.

To check your knowledge about Lesson Objectives, see the exercises on The Skillful Teacher website at www.RBTeach.com/TST7.




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Good planning skills for daily lessons stand behind good teaching.

Curriculum Planning

This chapter is about planning lessons, the small daily packages of crafted instruction within units. Well-designed units are still only general blueprints to what a teacher will do tomorrow with the 30 students in front of her. Good planning skills for daily lessons stand behind good teaching.

To learn about the important teacher knowledge base about unit design, see the excellent work of Wiggins and McTighe (2005) on backward planning. In- structional coaches, department chairs, and administrators often find they get more payback from planning conferences that focus on identifying worthwhile objectives and doing content analysis (see Chapter 18) with teachers than from observations with feedback. This will be true when the teacher’s growing edge is related to clarity and issues of curriculum content.


The centerpiece of planning is the lesson—the planned time period when stu- dents engage content through experiences that teachers have designed. A lesson plan is the detailed implementation scenario that specifies what the teacher does and what the students are expected to do during a bounded chunk of time de- voted to a particular mastery objective.

It may take more than one class period to complete a lesson. Therefore, cer- tain elements of the lesson, like activating student current knowledge, may take place on Monday, and most of the feedback on student work may be observable on Tuesday. These two class periods, as a package, may comprise a complete lesson on, say, the separation of powers in the U.S. government. That lesson, in turn, is part of a unit on the U.S. Constitution.

The design and overall construction of the unit may be in the district cur- riculum guide, but the actual plan for individual lessons probably is not (and should not be) in the curriculum guide. Designing lessons and crafting student work is the teacher’s job, and curriculum guides and other district materials are


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