In the past few years, educational researchers have become very interested in teachers’ planning. They have interviewed teachers about how they plan, asked teachers to “think out loud” while planning or to keep journals describing their plans, and even studied teachers intensively for months at a time. What have they found?

First, planning influences what students will learn, because planning transforms the available time and curriculum materials into activities, assignments, and tasks for students- time is the of essence planning. When a teacher decides to devote 7 hours to language arts and 15 minutes to science in a given week, the students in that class will learn more language than science; In fact, differences as dramatic as this do occur, with some classrooms dedicating twice as much time as others to certain subjects. Planning done at the beginning of the is particularly important, because many routines and patterns, such as time allocations, are established early. So, a little planning does go a long way in terms of what will be taught and what will be learned.

Second, teachers engage in several levels of planning- by the year, term, unit, week, and day. All the levels must be coordinated. Accomplishing the year’s plan requires breaking the work into terms, the terms into units, and the units into weeks and days. For experienced teachers, unit planning seems to be the most important level, followed by weekly and then daily planning. As you gain experience in teaching, it will be easier to coordinate these levels of planning and incorporate the state and district curriculum requirements as well.

Third, plans reduce but do not eliminate- uncertainty in teaching. Planning must allow flexibility. There is some evidence that when teachers “overplan”-fill every minute and stick to the plan no matter what their students do not learn as much as students whose teachers are flexible. So plans are not made to be broken-but sometimes they need to be bent a bit.

In order to plan creatively and flexibly, teachers need to have wide-ranging knowledge about students, their interests, and abilities; the subjects being taught; alternative ways to teach and assess understanding; working with groups; the expectations and limitations of the school and community, how to apply and adapt materials and texts; and how to pull all this knowledge together into meaningful activities. The plans of beginning teachers sometimes don’t work because they lack knowledge about the students or the subject-they can’t estimate how long it will take students to complete an activity, for example, or they stumble when asked for an a different example. explanation or

In planning, you can do it yourself–but collaboration is better. Working with other teachers and sharing ideas is one of the best experiences in teaching. But even great lesson plans taken from a terrific website on science have to be adapted to your situation. Some of the adaptation comes before you teach and some comes after. In fact, much of what experienced teachers know about planning comes from looking back-reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, so do look back on your plans and grow professionally in the process.

Finally, there is no one model for effective planning. One size does not fit all in planning. Planning is a creative problem-solving process for experienced teachers. These teachers know how to accomplish many lessons and to teach segments of lessons effectively. They know what to expect and how to proceed, so they don’t necessarily continue to follow the detailed lesson-planning models they learned during training. Planning is more informal “in their heads”. However many experienced teachers think it was helpful to learn this detailed system as foundation.

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