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This definition of a lesson is, therefore, tied to material to be learned rather than to time. A lesson can take more than one class period. If a lesson is good,


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it will have most of the following parts, although not all may be used in a single class period because some steps are coming later or have already happened:

pp Precision: A clear statement of objective in mastery language (what stu- dents will know or be able to do) exists, plus other elements profiled in Chapter 19, “Planning.”

pp Connections: There are links with similar lessons being taught elsewhere in the district with regard to rigor, consistency, and alignment.

pp Rigor: The standards for proficiency are high enough.

pp Consistency: “Proficient student performance” has the same meaning throughout the school or the district.

pp Alignment: What’s supposed to be taught is actually taught and actually tested.


The implementation of a lesson is marked by unplanned behaviors that come from a teacher’s instructional repertoire and decisions made on the fly that are not always premeditated. These include the following:

pp Checking for understanding (frequently and broadly) to identify when to slow down, stop, or reteach, and for whom.

pp Unscrambling confusions by getting students to make visible their think- ing, assumptions, or processes.

pp Being explicit.

pp Making cognitive connections.

Teachers design lessons that are based on what is in the curriculum. Their les- sons may or may not draw heavily on district support materials, unit guides, and other resources. But the lessons themselves, that is the sequence of activi-



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ties and tasks students do daily, are formulated by the teacher as designer. They are not specified and required in the curriculum. This does not mean that the teacher has to make them up from scratch each day. It’s just that in a district that values professionalism, the teacher makes choices about what the appro- priate activities and tasks are for their students. The teacher is a designer of student work. To prescribe what teachers should do in lessons can be insulting to skilled professionals and deny students the benefit of skillful professional decisions about the how, when, and how fast of instruction.

We acknowledge that for novice teachers and para-professionals, it may be appropriate to provide scripts of what good presentations or questioning would sound like and to prescribe in considerable detail how to set up materials and get students to engage. But such scripts should be used only as needed for inexperienced teachers and only until their diagnostic and planning skills reach professional levels of proficiency. Table 17.5 shows the relationship of lessons, units, and courses.

Table 17.5 Relationship of Lessons, Units, and Courses

Lesson Unit Course

Duration 1 to 2 class periods Weeks or months Semester or year

Central Elements

Mastery Objectives Big ideas/Enduring under- standings Guiding/Essential ques- tions Evidence of learning

Overarching theme Proficiency targets: • Exemplars • Criteria • Rubric

Measured by Observation Inspection of student work Quizzes Products Q & A interviews

Projects Unit tests Performances

Benchmark performances or products Final examinations Comprehensive orals

Records Checklists Gradebooks Anecdotal notes Running records

Grades tied to rubrics Certification of proficiency (3 on a 4-point scale) Credits Final grade

In a district that values professionalism, the teacher makes choices about what the appropriate activities and tasks are for their students.



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Besides the existence of good curriculum documents (blueprints, frameworks, and guides), one might find the following indicators of a school’s well-developed curriculum:

pp Book closets and audiovisual repositories where materials consistent with the curriculum are stored and accessible to teachers.

pp A compilation of assessments that are uniform and used by all teachers of a given subject or topic.

pp Talk at grade level or department meetings about curriculum implementa- tion and improvement.

pp State standards and framework documents readily available.

pp Individual classrooms outfitted with a copy of relevant standards and cur- riculum guides.

pp Banks of exemplars of student work at proficiency for various units and skills available for teachers.

pp Lesson plan banks of exemplary lessons available.

pp Time built into the professional development schedule for improving the teaching of specific units or topics in the curriculum.

The common understandings and agreements here about good curriculum not only enable us to achieve consistency in our teaching, but also to agree on common maps about what is important to teach. The elements can also be used as a template for design in a district that is in the process of creating curricula.

In addition, common understanding of exactly what student performance schools are shooting for and what good performance would look like is a prerequisite for effective team meetings when grade-level teachers or middle school and high school teachers who teach the same content meet together. Teachers can’t collaborate to look at student work and problem-solve about how to teach certain items better if they’re not teaching to the same standards and in agreement about the criteria for good performance.



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Our hope is that teachers know what questions to ask about the agreements their schools and districts have made regarding what to teach and what good student performance should look like. In addition, this chapter should serve as a guide for what work needs to be done when teachers serve on curriculum development committees. And finally, we hope that it is apparent how impor- tant a clear and consistent set of curriculum agreements is for planning cohe- sive instruction that can move all students to proficiency.

The next two chapters profile the teacher skills required to move from cur- riculum to the planning and implementation of good lessons based on that curriculum.



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pp The common understandings and agreements between the district office (or academic department) and its teachers about good curriculum enable consistency in teaching and agreement about what is important to teach.

Curriculum Agreements Address:

p• Topics to be taught p• Big ideas p• Units of study organized around the big ideas p• Learning expectations (or learning outcomes) for a grade or course p• Uniform assessments (sometimes called benchmark assessments), especially final as-

sessments, interim assessments, and unit assessments p• Criteria for proficiency on assessment items p• End-of-course samples of proficient student work (an exemplar everyone can look at to see

exactly what the district really means by the learning expectation) p• Pedagogical practices p• Pacing guides and curriculum maps p• Lesson plans p• Time allocations p• Instructional strategies p• Materials p• Resources

pp A good lesson has precision, connections, rigor, consistency, and alignment.

Lesson Implementation Includes:

p• Checking for understanding p• Unscrambling confusions p• Explicitness p• Cognitive connections

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




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Lesson Objectives

The teacher skill described in this chapter is a thinking skill. It is em-ployed before a lesson takes place, yet it is responsible for how the lesson looks and sounds. It is also a hinge for how much student learning takes place. The quality of teacher thinking about objectives accounts for much of what we see (or don’t see) in classrooms.

A clear objective—we use the terms “objective,” “learning outcome,” “learning target,” “learning intention,” and “mastery objective” interchangeably—serves as a control tower for a lesson, always in touch with and carefully guiding the pilot and the passengers from the take-off through the flight path, the approach, and the landing. We show how that is so and provide guidelines for crafting good objectives and making them visible to students throughout lessons.

The objective of a lesson is what the students are supposed to learn or get better at when it is over. When we, as teachers, get crystal clear about what that ob- jective is, we design a much better lesson. We also check more thoroughly for understanding because we’re focused on what we want for the students and we want to know whether they have gotten there or not. In parallel, when students clearly know what they are supposed to learn or get better at, they learn more. Here research supports logic: if you know where you’re headed, you’re more likely to get there. There are two central tasks to lesson objectives. First, is the need, as a teacher, to get clear about it. This task will bring us to examining the language of the objective and the crucial determination of whether the objec- tive is the most appropriate one for the students in front of us today despite what the curriculum manual or the pacing guide may say. The second task is getting students to understand what the objective is, which requires far more than writing it on the board (Brookhart & Moss, 2014).

For decades, we have been in classrooms where the objective is posted on the board in compliance with a directive (or a strong expectation) from adminis- trators. However, this alone is not sufficient for the following reasons:

pp The objective may be written in language the students don’t understand.

pp Students may understand the vocabulary, but not put it together for the meaning of the objective.

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