Steppin’ off and stoppin’ the drip feed


Ever heard of the 5-step lesson plan? Here’s how it works. As one madly rushes from one lesson to another, consideration is given to what this next class has done recently, needs to complete soon in order to stay on schedule, and should probably achieve in the next hour. This usually takes place in the final 5 strides before entering the classroom and voila – the 5 step plan.

Personally, I never stoop to the 5-step lesson plan. For me it’s usually 3.

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I’m joking about this but only slightly. It has been the case for some years now that I have an expertise over the curriculum I deliver that has allowed me to devote more time to the year level coordinating considerations of my work. Those considerations kept me super busy and since my classes weren’t suffering I let this become the norm. I’d usually map out what I wanted to do with my classes for the week in my mind late on a Sunday night and, think of better ways to teach the same part of the course that I taught last year. That’s about as ‘planned’ as I’d get.

Can’t say I’m proud of it but there you are.

But this year, as previously posted, marks a change of tempo and technique. This year is all about fostering empowerment in the students I teach without losing the things that I know work well so the ‘step lesson plan’ phenomenon is gone and a reformation is underway.

Stopping the drip-feed 

My attempt to empower students starts with information flow. The problem as I see it is that I understand the curriculum inside and out but I have always drip fed this to the students. With the best of intentions I’ve habitually introduced only the most immediate elements to the class unit by unit, week by week. It’s like I was giving them the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that they were expected to complete but I’d only give them six or so pieces each week. Sure, by bounding in dramatically every lesson I was engaging my students but I’d inadvertently trained them to sit there passively and wait for me to provide them with what they need. They only had to sit there and do what I told them (which in most cases was pay attention to me and do what I say).

So, to get around this, I’ve made a real effort to provide the class with the wherewithal to go out and study at their own speed. The school already has a policy in place where we are expected to set and publish assessment dates in the our website at the start of the year so the class already knows when they’ll be assessed. I’ve also given the class the official study design for the subject and made sure they understand what it says, so now they have greater clarity on how they’ll be assessed. I’ve taken all the resources I’d normally hand out slowly and put them on a wiki so that the class can read through any and all of it when they want as well. Lastly, I have started emailing the students in my classes on a Sunday night with details of what I wish to cover in the upcoming week’s lessons. This email doesn’t provide a detailed lesson by lesson plan so much as a detailed heads up so that anyone who wants to read ahead can do so and come to class prepared and any questions at the ready.

This is not really a revolutionary idea but it is based on one. All of this is in keeping with the basic premise of a flipped classroom. Everything (in as much practical detail as possible) is at the student’s fingertips and there is no need to keep checking in with the teacher whether it’s OK to look at something yet.

Promoting mastery

The next item on the empowerment agenda is skill development. I have posted previously on the work I’ve already begun on effective feedback techniques and I’m pleased to say all those processes look to be useful here too. Further to this though is the inclusion of the mastery grid concept. I sat down and had a really good think about what skills each of the tasks used to assess this subject requires from a student. These have been itemised on a spread sheet and (you guessed it) made available to the class.  Now absolutely everything I get my class to do AND everything they choose to do of their own accord is able to be measured in some way.

This has had some quite challenging consequences. Suddenly, the great middle ability masses have a better way of articulating their questions and concerns, and I have the ability to target one or two manageable areas for them to make improvements in over the short term. In fact, as the year has progressed, I find that I am having extremely productive and in depth conferences with students but only managing 5 or so within a 50 minute period. Thankfully the Mastery grid idea allows me to keep track of whose been helped and who to target next time.

There’s much more that could be written here but I’ll leave it for now. Flipping a class is all well and good but too much information in a blog makes for dull reading.

Trust me though, I’ll get back to this stuff before long.

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2 thoughts on “Steppin’ off and stoppin’ the drip feed

  1. I had an lesson I made up on the fly. I use to use the newspaper for current events. I had to be careful because it sometimes brought up topics I wanted to avoid. But there was a piece about pit bulls tearing up a kid. The students, and this was a tough bunch of students decided the topic would be pit bulls. I pinned one half the class pro pit bull and the other half anti. It did not matter how they felt they had a client, a pit bull and even if they were against pit bulls, if they were the defense they had to defend and if they were the Prosecutors they had to rip them apart. I set it up, choose a class leader to run it and they went to it. I was simply the timer. I enforced Roberts Laws of Orders. But the kids ran it and it went by fast. They did not want to leave to go to their next class. So I sent a memo to that teacher and he let it continue. It was a wonderful teaching experience. The next day they came in with a new topic that they had figured out by phone calls to each other the night before. They ran with it. And so it went for quite a while. Then FCAT kicked in and we had to go back to the same old same old. Other classes heard of what happened and they wanted in. It was to say the least a special year. The next year I tried but it was a new bunch and they did not buy into it.

    • Love this. Thanks Waxy. Your example raises two important issues I wanted to fit into the post but couldn’t.
      1. A flipped classroom isn’t as simple as a series of online tasks, power points, or youtube videos. It is something that the students drive under the expert care and judgement of the teacher. The task may be brilliant for one group but not necessarily so effectivethe same way every time. The teacher’s role is subtle but essential.
      2. We are tied to curriculum.

        All

      of us. I don’t care what country you teach in (with the possible exception of Finland). The awful paradox here is that education policy makers crave better education outcomes but don’t realise the rigidity of their curricular frameworks stifle your sort of creativity. Of course, it’s also possible they do know this but are too worried about allowing for greater flexibility.
      Thanks again for taking the time to reply. As always, much appreciated.

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