Lesson Planning for Desired Results

Anxiety and eagerness for Monday morning classes and another week of teaching motivated the unorthodox teacher to toil long and tirelessly each and every weekend. The immense responsibility he felt for his students led to hours of meticulous planning for the “desired results”. He worked on “lesson plans” at 45 minute intervals (the time to play one side of a music cassette tape) with ten minute breaks, and even though he hadn’t learned lesson planning strategies as a science major in college, he had his thoughts on what students should learn–and it was much more than science content.IMG_2586

I’d be fooling you and myself by not admitting the Regents Exams for Physics and Chemistry didn’t matter. On the contrary, they mattered very, very much to me, my students, and their parents. Regents scores were the trimmings of student transcripts for college applications, particularly those from the sophomore and junior years, and nearly everyone was destined for college in my classes. The trick for me was how to weave into lesson plans the other “desired results” I sought. Results that would engage my students, make them feel comfortable with science, push them to think deeply and differently about science, and ask them to communicate thoughts and positions through writing and speaking. I wanted my students to have the instruction that would inspire and motivate them, something I felt was amiss for many students.

Lesson planning for the unorthodox teacher always began with a highlighter, textbook and state syllabi.  After highlighting in the syllabi what students should know and be able to do based on the textbook chapter material, I’d then ask myself “How can I make this relevant for the students?, How can I ratchet up the rigor?, Are there connections I can make to prior content, or to lessons being learned in other subjects?, How can I bring humor into the lesson?,  Are there any “experts” I could invite to present on the content?, What challenging labs or performance tasks can I create for teams of students?, and How will I know the students have learned the material?” It was no wonder I spent most of my weekends the first two years prepping for classes. For one thing, I didn’t know the material that well (I hadn’t had chemistry or physics classes in over eight years), and spent half the weekend doing problems in the textbook so I could “confidently” teach the material. The other issue was how to manage the limited student contact time to realize all my “desired results” for the lessons.

I would learn the tricks and skills of lesson and unit planning over many years practice, and would ultimately teach others strategies for planning and preparation. Interestingly, the lesson planning and “desired results” questions I had asked myself those first two years of teaching would stay consistent throughout my career, which suggests there are priorities in teaching and learning that span the ages. As educators, we must always ask ourselves, “Who are my students?, How can I make this rigorous and relevant?, How can I engage students to interact with one another on challenging, authentic tasks?, How does this all align to the state/national standards or the district curriculum map?, How do I know my students are learning the content and skills, and what are my plans to address learning gaps?, Do I fully understand the content, and am I open to integrating that of other subject areas? Are there experts I can bring in to my classroom?,” and so on.  The unorthodox teacher found great joy in identifying and sometimes realizing his “desired results”, and though the process got simpler over time, the passionate investment of sweat and time barely wavered when he realized the scope of his responsibility to nurture and inspire young people to realize their fullest potential.



Teaching with the End in Mind

Open the textbook, look at chapter one, and work through the content and student problems section so there are no doubts in your mind. Review what the state standards have to say about the topic, and be sure the chapter “covers” all critical key ideas. If not, plan on supplementing. Regardless, figure out ways to make the material engaging through humor, passion, and possible relevance. At chapters end, devise your own assessment or use one from the teacher’s resources. Move on to chapter two. And so it goes for the unorthodox teacher.cropped-p1000221.jpg

Having made an abrupt career shift from oceanographer to high school science teacher (Physics and Chemistry, initially), I didn’t have the background knowledge of lesson planning. There were no models or graphic tools to organize the standards, content knowledge, information from the textbook, or other relevant information. I was rudderless and unprepared. But for private schools such as St. Mary’s Academy in Glens Falls, NY, state certification rules allowed one to teach without state certification or an educator preparation program degree. I was hired not for my pedagogical prowess, but for my science background and practical experience working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office.

My students somehow survived my early fumbled attempts at teaching. Lessons were flawed, and I usually flew by the “seat of my pants” staying one chapter ahead of the students. Assessments were inauthentic, low rigor, and used solely to get grades in my grade book that would satisfy students and parents. Remarkably, I found my students were learning, though mostly for their parents’ expectations. SMA was and remains a prestigious school in the city, and many parents continued the tradition though the high school class numbers were rapidly declining.  No, the only problems were my lack of experience.

Reflecting back, the saving grace for me was a passion for teaching and a mindset that Stephen Covey would aptly call, “Begin with the end in Mind”, and which Wiggins and McTighe described as Identify Desired Results.  I did have a goal for my instruction, and the state syllabi for physics and chemistry were my bibles. I highlighted each concept covered throughout the year in the syllabi, to ensure there were no gaps at year’s end, and I persisted when the lesson was a dud or if one or more students still didn’t understand. Failure was not an option. I’d found my passion, and I loved it–in spite of the bumps. My overriding goal was that every student would pass my class and the Regents exam, and we’d have fun along the way.  Eventually I would discover the practitioner tools to lesson plan and build units of instruction. Meanwhile, for my two years at SMA, I often thought at the end of a long day, “How lucky was I to be a teacher!!” And believe it or not, Mondays couldn’t come soon enough.