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Student confusions are often rooted in their different understandings of the words and terms used. For example, in the primary grades when students are given a set of seven tiles and a set of four tiles and asked how many more there are in the larger set, there is a confusion that prevents them coming up with 3 as the answer. It’s a language confusion. They tend to focus on the word “more,” identify the bigger set, which has more, and count how many are in it. Thus they give the answer 7. We have seen teachers design excellent activities for students that nevertheless don’t do the job, because they didn’t anticipate this kind of confusion.

One meaning of “how many more” in a mathematical question is “how many extra in the bigger set if you match up the two sets one to one.” Failure to use that language—or in some way address the language confusion of the chil- dren—delays the learning and causes confusion that is evident despite an oth- erwise excellent design for materials and tasks. Anticipating this confusion might have led to a different sequence of activities (like saving the introduction of the subtraction algorithm for later) and different language in the directions to the students with the task.

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T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R510

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Decisions 9 and 10: Design Learning Experiences That Are Logically Linked to the Intended Learning

The next aspect of lesson planning is the design of student learning experi- ences. Schlechty (2000) says that the center of teaching skill is the work we create for students to do. That is congruent with what Ralph Tyler (1949) said long ago when he pointed out that learning proceeds from what the students do, not what we do. But what the students do derives from the tasks we set for them and the preparation (instruction) we give them for those tasks. A learn- ing experience is more complex than just designing tasks for students, although it includes the tasks. It is smaller than a lesson because a lesson can shift gears and contain several learning experiences. Every time the activity changes, the learning experience changes. Typically, a good lesson changes activity structure every now and then so as not to bore students.

A learning experience may be the teacher presenting, a Q&A session, a dem- onstration, student group work, and all manner of cognitive activities and formats. In this stage of planning, a teacher may choose a strategy to help students understand, like developing a graphic organizer of photosynthesis or doing a think-aloud with an approach to problem-solving in math. And interspersed with these activities is a sequence of tasks for students: solve this problem; respond to this inference question; compare notes with your neighbor; determine the most important variable, defend your choice; make a table of data; or come up with a topic sentence. The design of the students’ cognitive experience in a lesson is under our control. Clearly, doing that well has a tremendous influence on children’s opportunity to learn. Thus planning the minute-to-minute unfolding of those learning experiences in some detail is a vital component of teaching skill.

Let’s start with student tasks. We select or make them up for students to do, some during the lesson, and some afterward for homework. The key question is, “Is the doing of the task likely to lead students to learn the learning?” This is not a trivial question.

Let’s say that students are asked to trace a map of Africa, fill in the names of the countries, and color it in. This is part of a unit on Africa. Some outcomes a teacher might reasonably want in the unit are for students to be able to name African countries if they are shown an outline of the shape without the name, identify which countries have coasts and which are inland, estimate the relative size of African countries in relation to each other, and explain the relationship between the country’s location and water supply to its climate and growing sea- son. Any of these might be worthwhile goals, but none of them will be realized by drawing an attractive map. There is nothing wrong with each student going

Planning the minute-to- minute unfolding of learning experiences in some detail is a vital component of teaching skill.

 

 

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home with an attractive, accurate map of Africa, but additional events and as- signments must be planned if they are to learn something.

If we want students to be able to name the countries, then we make up a game where that is required. If we want students to know which countries are inland, then we have them highlight these countries on the map in a certain way and memorize a list. If we want them to know the relative sizes of the countries, then we have them estimate how many cutouts of given countries can fit inside a to-scale cutout of, say, the United States and construct a table of comparisons from smallest to largest. If we want them to understand the placement of the country on the continent in relation to climate and growing season, then we have them color in the map by topological features and write sentences about the patterns of crops and closeness to the equator. It should be logically con- ceivable that the doing of the task assigned to students could (though not nec- essarily by itself ) lead them to the intended learning. Our point is this: look carefully at the activities you select for students to do in relation to the mastery objective and ask yourself if doing that task is connected to the precise learning you’re aiming for. Fun activities do not ensure worthwhile learning.

Decision 11: Decide How and When to Gather Evidence of Student Learning

Each lesson should produce data we can use to decide how many students “have it,” who doesn’t, and who is ready for moving ahead. If we don’t have data of some kind to look at as we’re getting ready to plan, then there was a hole in our planning or implementation yesterday.

Decision 12: Decide How Students Will Make Their Thinking and Understanding Public

The sequence of activities should include a way for students to be talking, writ- ing, and interacting with each other around the content of the class in such a way that they can respond to one another and the teacher has access to their thinking. If we have internalized the principles of “Making Students’ Thinking Visible” (see Chapter 11, “Clarity”), this will be built into how we structure student interaction for robust talk.

Decision 13: Plan How to Get Students Cognitively Active in Summarizing

The “Summarizing” section in Chapter 11, “Clarity,” describes the significance of this behavior. The planning implication is simply that time needs to be pro-

Look carefully at the activities you select for students and ask yourself if they are connected to the precise learning you’re aiming for.

 

 

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vided for it to occur, and the actual mechanism for summarizing may require some preparation.

THE FINER POINTS ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION DECISIONS

These decisions are slightly less critical than the ones above, but they can often determine the success of a lesson.

Decision 14: Get the Students’ Minds in Gear

This item means choosing and using an activator (see Chapter 11, “Clarity”). No lesson hinges on doing or not doing this strategy. It is particularly useful, how- ever, when starting a new topic like “taxes” or “weather,” because it can surface many misconceptions we can deal with later.

Decision 15: Decide How Much Time Will Be Needed for Each Task or Activity

Do a fast-forward time-lapse mental movie in which you imagine the activities playing out. Will they fit in the time allotted? If necessary, plan other environ- mental variables (space and routines) so that they will.

Decision 16: Plan the Effective Effort Strategies That May Come into Play

This is an uncommon element in lesson planning. We have included it because teaching the students how to exert effective effort is a commitment of ours personally, and we think it should be in the background all the time, waiting for opportunities to be included in any lesson (these strategies are profiled in Chapter 14, “Expectations”). Suffice it to say here that we should scan those ideas often during lesson planning to see which ones can be included today, es- pecially strategies like student self-identification of errors and self-correction.

Decision 17: Plan Interactive Moves

This includes planning your questions so as to guide thinking appropriately. A related question is what mediating we have to do as teachers so the students can take advantage of the available learning by doing the task. For example, if we want students to be aware of the proximity of the African country to the equator and its effect on climate, we could have students draw the equator on the map at the beginning. Then we might say, “Now as you’re drawing in countries, figure out how you’ll record in a separate data table how far they are from the equator.

 

 

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Later, I’m going to ask you to show some connection between their location and their crops and growing season. Who wants to predict what we may find?”

These moves cue the students about a line of inquiry that they will be pursuing about geography, climate, and crops. It also gets a few predictions out for the students to be thinking about as they’re working on the map: “Mr. Rodriguez, I think the countries close to the equator will have a lot of desert and grow crops only close to rivers.” Without some deliberate structuring for students’ cognition while working on the map, they may produce a great map without any cognition at all related to what you want them to know. Students can trace and label a perfectly beautiful map while at the same time socializing. Good planners decide in advance on structuring moves that increase the percentage of student attention and cognition that is spent on the desired learning.

A number of the Clarity moves (like activating students’ current knowledge or explicitly telling students the reason for the activity they’re doing) fit here. Of particular importance is planning the questions to ask so as to guide thinking along productive paths and stretch the thinking of all students to higher levels. (For more detail on this, see the document “Questioning Skills” for Chapter 11 on The Skillful Teacher website at www.RBTeach.com/TST7.)

Decision 18: Plan How to Diversify for Different Student Learning Styles

The simplest and most practical level of diversification is the set of variables we’ve laid out in Chapter 20, “Differentiated Instruction.” If you have all the above issues under control, then it is time to see how you can vary perceptual mode, grouping structure, and so on to match and stretch student learning preferences. To go deeper into this topic, explore McCarthy (1987b), Gregorc and Ward (1977), Dunn and Dunn (1978), and Tomlinson (2014).

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