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“What is effective teaching?” This question generates a variety of answers from teachers and administrators. Most educators have their perception or definition. Despite one’s opinion, teaching is a process and has several components and principles.
To become a certified teacher, one must attend a teaching program at a university or college. While participating in a teacher education program, future educators must take methods courses in the core subject areas and their area of certification. Future teachers learn theory, best practices, instructional strategies, lesson planning, and more. Then, they complete a semester of student teaching in a controlled setting with a cooperating teacher for support. Afterward, the real-world awaits in real classrooms with real students. In other words, welcome to the trenches.
Experienced and new teachers search for effective and engaging strategies to ensure that their students successfully learn new skills. Teaching is not an easy process, and it takes much thinking and preparation to create great lessons for students. In this chapter, we will explore how effective teaching begins with planning. As educators, we subconsciously know some of these things, but it is good to refresh our memories.
According to Qualities of Effective Teachers, 3rd Edition by James H. Stronge, 2018, “Effectiveness is an elusive concept when we consider the complex task of teaching. Some researchers define teacher effectiveness in terms of student achievement.
Others focus on high-performance ratings from supervisors. Still, others rely on comments from students, administrators, and other interested stakeholders. In fact, in addition to being uncertain how to define effectiveness, we vacillate on just how to refer to successful teachers.”
If you ask a variety of teachers and administrators to define teacher effectiveness, you will hear many different interpretations. Our perceptions and opinions are different based on our education, experiences, school population, and expectations. However, despite our perceptions and views, we can agree that effective teaching begins with lesson planning.
Effective teaching, along with a great and engaging lesson begins with strategic and effective planning. During the planning stage, effective teachers recognize how to reach their students best and being intentional. Jeff C. Marshall in Highly Effective Teachers states, “When we focus more on the why and thus the intentionality of our teaching, we begin to ask richer questions that guide our instruction, such as: How can I better engage the learners who appear to mentally check out? How can I make sure that my lessons are aligned so that the learning matches my goals/objectives? How can I create a learning environment that challenges all while providing scaffolding for those who need it?
Successful teaching cannot occur without effective planning. As educators, we learned to write lesson plans using formulas and templates. The procedure we are very familiar with is Students Will Be Able To (SWBAT) – Skill (Verb) – Concept – Context. The skill is “What am I going to do? The concept equals the topic, big idea, or strategy. Lastly, the context is the specific condition, what are you using, and how will I get there. Here are two examples.
1. SWBAT state the characters, plot, setting, and theme for a story.
2. SWBAT compare measurements made using different units.
It takes professional development, practice, and experience to learn to create lessons with intentionality. Always keep the learning outcomes in mind in all of the stages of designing a lesson or unit. Indeed, you want your assignments and activities to be engaging, effective, and relevant for the students. Let’s explore backward design, strategies, and questions to ask to help you create lessons that meet your expectation and students’ needs.
Whether you teach children or adults, keep these ideas in your mind. As part of your lesson planning process, ask yourself these four questions.
1. Who are your learners? Understand the learning characteristics, styles, and needs of your students.
2. Why is this lesson or unit necessary? Students, want to know, “Why do I need to know this? What’s in it for me?”
3. What do learners need to be able to do?
4. How can the students best learn the subject or skill?
Think about using the backward design method to create your lesson and keep the learning outcomes in mind. Also, it helps to keep your lesson relevant to the needs of your students. Now let’s begin with steps to get you started with your design.
1. Imagine what students will say and be able to do at the end of the lesson.
2. Think and reflect on how to imagine the end.
3. Build your beginning with your end in mind.
4. Plan with students’ needs in mind. Will the lesson satisfy their needs?
Now you are ready to head to the next step by moving from imagining what the lesson looks like to the beginning to make it a reality. Begin to ask yourself more in-depth questions for students, materials, resources, and instructional strategies. Here are a few questions to ask yourself. Reflect and answer the questions in a way to help you stay focused on the learning outcomes. Remember always to keep the learning outcomes in mind.
1. What prior knowledge or skills do students need to be successful?
2. What vocabulary, terms, information, or skills do you need to introduce to participants?
3. What materials and resources are best in building the desired skills and knowledge?
4. What instructional strategies are most likely to result in your desired outcome for your students?
5. How can you progress monitor or check for understanding along the way? What type of assessment tools will you use?
A great resource to review is In Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe. They state that “backward design is focused primarily on student learning and understanding. When teachers are designing lessons, units, or courses, they often focus on the activities and the instruction rather than the outputs of the teaching.
Therefore, it can be stated that teachers often focus more on teaching rather than learning. This perspective can lead to the misconception that learning is the activity when, in fact, learning is derived from a careful consideration of the meaning of the activity.”
For more information on backward design, check out Three Stages of Backward Design.
1. Identify the Desired Result
2. Determine Acceptable Evidence
3. Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction
Let’s quickly take a look at three stages of a road trip to the learning outcomes you desire.
Stage 1: Desired Results
Here is where you establish the goals and enduring understandings of the lesson. You will think about: Acquisition, Understandings, Essential Questions, and Transfer.
What key knowledge or skill will students acquire during the lesson or unit?
What big ideas or specific understanding will students have upon completion of the lesson or unit?
What questions will provoke inquiry, understanding, and transfer of the knowledge? The essential questions usually frame the lesson. If your students attain the goals of the lesson, they should be able to answer the essential questions.
How will students transfer the knowledge from the lesson or unit? Then, how will they apply the information or experience outside the context of the class?
Stage 2: Evidence and Assessment
You must decide what you will evaluate students on or what is the evaluative criteria. Will you use performance tasks, projects, papers, quizzes, tests, homework, or other evidence?
Students must demonstrate that they attained the goals of the lesson. They must show their level of understanding, and you must determine how students will do so.
Stage 3: Learning Path
Summarize key learning events and instructional strategies. Will you present key learning events via individual learning activities, lectures, discussions, problem-solving sessions, or other techniques.
You must decide the individual learning activities and instructional strategies to use during the lesson or unit.
Successful lessons begin with strategic planning and backward design is thorough practice. It takes time to master; however, time and with practice, it will become normal to you. The steps for using backward design allow you, the teacher, to be more reflective when creating lessons. The process makes you clearly think about the students’ needs, learning styles, resources, materials, and assessments. More importantly, the backward design allows you to plan and teach with intentionality. Remember effective teaching begins with effective planning.
Qualities of Effective Teachers, 3rd Edition by James H. Stronge, 2018 Stronge, J., 2018. Qualities of an Effective Teacher. 3rd ed. United States: ASCD.
Jeff C. Marshall in Highly Effective Teachers: 7 Classroom Tested Practices That Foster Student Success Marshall, J., 2016. The Highly Effective Teacher: 7 Classroom-Tested Practices That Foster Student Success. 1st ed. United States: ASCD.
In Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe Wiggins, G. P., McTighe, J., Kiernan, L. J., Frost, F., & Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
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