A Weekly Newsletter
Levels of Questioning
Level 1: Introduction of Knowledge (Basic Recall)
Level 2: Practice Knowledge Learned (Application/Analysis)
Level 3: Demonstrates Mastery of Knowledge Learned (Synthesis/Evaluation)
AVID Student of the Week - Jordyn Merritt (8th Grade)
Recruitment Coming Soon
What is AVID?
AVID is an elective class offered to students who would like to prepare for four-year colleges and universities. Students must have satisfactory citizenship, good attendance, and a G.P.A. of 2.0 or higher.
- Teaches skills and behaviors for academic success
- Provides intensive support with tutorials and strong student/teacher relationships
- Creates a positive peer group for students
- Develops a sense of hope for personal achievement gained through hard work and determination
AVID Students must be able to be successful in at least one honors class and, most importantly, have have the desire to be challenged and excel academically.
Guest Speakers Needed
Wednesday WICOR by Craig McKinney
Rethinking Planning: Asking the Right Questions
I used to think that planning for instruction meant sitting the team down with a blank calendar and a three-ring binder full of lessons from past years and fitting the old activities onto the new calendar, perhaps replacing some activities we’d grown tired of with new ones. After that, we’d delegate duties (who will write the test? photocopy the handouts? count the supplies? reserve computer labs?) and set a meeting date to plan for the next unit. Perhaps we’d have casual conversations from time to time about an upcoming lesson--sometimes one that was coming up next period!--but overall we didn’t have much curricular team talk after the planning meeting.
We certainly never discussed why we were teaching what we were teaching and how our students would show understanding of unit objectives. In fact, our learning objectives seldom ventured out of the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and there wasn’t an overarching “so what?” to our units. In English, we taught novels which were ends in themselves (with accompanying character lists, study guides, author background lectures, teacher-provided term lists, and Scantron tests). The “objective” was to study Of Mice and Men, not to use the novel to teach some concept or skill that had any real-world relevance beyond the walls of the ninth grade English classroom. In the adult world, no one really cares if you can recall the names of the characters in the novel unless you’re on a competitive trivia team.
I’m not trying to minimalize what we were doing. We had the best of intentions, and our students certainly left our classrooms with more knowledge than they had when they entered. But the world of education has changed since the days when I first started teaching (when Beanie Babies were a new fad, the Spin Doctors were a big thing, and America had not yet befriended Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe). What I believe about instruction today is that students need to learn how to think, how to connect their learning to the world, and how to perform the kinds of skills that will allow them to adapt to a world that is changing rapidly. The content I teach and the texts my students read are merely vehicles to help students uncover what curriculum experts Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe call “Enduring Understandings.” My lessons, then, should not be a series of isolated activities but a carefully constructed sequence of experiences leading to a final student product that provides evidence of student understanding.
With that end in mind, I’ve come up with a list of questions that I would use to plan lessons individually or with a team. The questions work equally well whether I’m a teacher following a district curriculum or crafting one of my own.
Why am I teaching this lesson? What are the goals of this lesson?
This question presupposes there’s already a unit plan in place that is focused on Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings that are relevant, meaningful, and have a degree of complexity. The unit itself will have Learning Targets that are measured by some kind of CAP (Culminating Assessment Product) that requires students to transfer their learning to a new, preferably real-world context. Once all of that is in place, it’s important for the teacher to examine each specific lesson to see how it contributes to the overarching goals of the unit. If the teacher doesn’t know the overall purpose of the lesson, the lessons will have less meaning and direction for the students and might feel like (or actually be) a series of isolated activities with no end in mind.
How am I going to make the purpose clear to the students?
No matter how well the teacher knows what’s going on, the lesson lacks relevance if the students are left in the dark about how it fits into the bigger scheme of things. Don’t be afraid to let your students know the why behind the lesson. What skills and knowledge are they gathering, and why will this knowledge be useful down the road?
What are the kids going to be doing?
The teacher has probably mastered the content and skills already. The most important thing is to let the students wrestle with the skills and concepts in a safe environment. The kids should be doing most of the thinking and most of the work. This, however, doesn’t happen by accident. The well-prepared teacher preplans questions, collaborative learning opportunities, and deliberate student-focused experiences to assist students in uncovering the Enduring Understandings of the unit. If the teacher has to tell the students what the EUs are and what they should be thinking about them, that pretty much defeats the purpose. If the answer to the question, “What are the kids going to be doing?” is, “Listening and copying down what I say or what is on the PowerPoint,” I’d wager that the teacher is going to be disappointed at the students’ performance of the CAP at the end of the unit.
How am I going to pull this off smoothly?
Like planning a party, a well-prepared teacher has thought through every aspect of the class period before the bell rings. How will I begin and end class? How will I hook my students to get them into the lesson? How will I manage materials effectively? How will I move from one activity to the next? What problems can I foresee, and can I prevent them? What will students do when/if they finish before others? What will I do for students who will need further challenge or enrichment? How can I provide additional scaffolding for struggling students? What types of movement and state changes can I incorporate to keep my students alert and engaged? Where can I add some AVID WICOR strategies? What examples and models do I need to provide to help students understand expectations? Where are places in the lesson cycle where I need to pause for some reflection or discussion on how the learning is going and how it can improve? Questions like these embody the real art of instruction, and they are well worth the time teachers invest in examining them during planning.
How will I know whether students get it?
The CAP should not be the first moment when you know whether a student knows what’s going on. And students shouldn’t be surprised to discover at the end of the unit that they didn’t understand what they were supposed to have learned. Informal assessments along the way can help you and the students know what they understand and what they need help with. These can be as simple as a thumbs up/thumbs down signal, an exit card, or a quickwrite. Effective formative assessment is a high-impact strategy that can help the teacher know where the instruction needs to go next. Also, make sure your assessments are congruent with your unit goals. There’s no need to give a picky plot-recall test on A Tale of Two Cities if you’re using the novel with the end goal of examining archetypes. It confuses the students because it muddies (or ignores completely) the stated learning targets.
As you’re planning and preparing for lessons with your team or individually, try out these questions and see what difference they make. Our district has instructional coaches in many content areas. Don’t hesitate to call on us for assistance with planning. It’s part of our job, and we enjoy helping you and your students see results.
If you want to read more about unit planning, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units by Wiggins and McTighe. It’ll help you understand the “why” behind the district’s curriculum design process. There are copies floating around your campus.
I wish you the best as you maximize your planning to foster the most productive student learning possible.