Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Mental Filmstrips

There have been some debates in the last few weeks on various blogs about how much lesson planning teachers do, whether and how it is useful, etc. To me, the important thing is that I have a plan and that I can visualize that plan. I am not a recorder of information just for the sake of recording it; I only use a daily agenda during the summer and other unpredictable times, because I remember appointments in my head the rest of the time. So, for me, writing down every question I'm going to ask or every standard my lesson meets would be busy work. When I do planning far in advance, I often write fairly detailed lesson plans so that I can refresh my memory when it comes time to do that unit. When I am planning just before teaching something, I usually just sketch it out. I make a lot of my own teaching materials and find that the process of making a handout or assignment sheet tends to require that I think through the flow of the lesson and the types of questions that I am going to ask. I have a vision for the lesson in my head, and that is enough. Mercifully for my sanity, no administrator has ever required that I turn in detailed lesson plans or, godforbid!, use one particular format for doing my planning.

Getting ready to dissect frogs - for the first time since I did it as a high school student - reminded me of the importance of being able to visualize the lesson. I've been nervous about this activity all week, and although I initially planned to start today, I knew I wasn't going to be ready. I found other activities to fill my teaching periods today and put more time into reviewing on-line dissection materials and preparing a packet for the kids. Those extra two hours made all the difference. Now, I'm not just ready, I'm excited. Tomorrow, a half-day, I will have time to practice the dissection myself and prepare frogs for the kids to look at when they need a model. But even now, before doing that, I have a clear vision of what is going to happen in the classroom. I know exactly what supplies I need on each table. I'm going to have the LCD projector and a laptop set up so that I can show parts of the process. I bought plastic bags in various sizes to help with storage and disposal. Of course, things will come up that I did not anticipate, and I will have to troubleshoot as I go, but that's true of every lesson. Having visualized what will happen at each stage of the lesson, I feel confident and ready to go.

I firmly believe that planning should be defined as whatever is necessary for the teacher to develop that mental filmstrip of the lesson: it might be a lesson plan, it might be some research, notes, and reflection, it might be something else altogether. And it might be different in your first few months teaching than it is once you have a year under your belt.

As a staff, one of the things we do before the first day of school is to sit down and talk through the day: Okay, so the kids line up outside, at 8:00 we open the doors, they walk up to the fifth floor and go to their homerooms - oh, how are they going to know which homeroom to go to? We visualize the flow of the day together, which makes sure we are all on the same page and allows us to catch loose ends that we might otherwise have missed.

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