Education Opinion

For New Teachers: Lessons From Motown on Lesson Planning, Part 1

By Megan M. Allen — June 29, 2016 4 min read
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“Every time I think about it, my stomach just sinks. I am so over my head.”

“It’s so overwhelming when I think about all the pieces, it kind-of makes me want to throw up!”

“I don’t even know where to start!”

No, these are not comments from home owners featured on the show “Hoarders,” forced to clean up and move out five years worth of newspapers and People magazines, but comments overheard from my pre-service teachers when we first discuss the complex and intentional craft of lesson planning.

There seem to be so many standards these days. We have the Common Core State Standards, individual state standards, the National Education Technology Standards (NETS), English Language Development Standards...I’m going to stop here before put myself in a panic. It happens to all of us!

In an article from TeachThought, author Terry Heick compares the old and new ways of thinking about content and standards, pointing out how teaching is changing. Below is a segment lifted from her piece:

The Old: Initially it was teaching "a class," and then it became a list of standards The New: Reconcile hundreds of academic standards-standards that include technology, citizenship, literacy, etc. This goes way beyond "content areas." The Difference: Integration Summary Which means not just knowing the standard, planning for its mastery, and then "teaching" it, but reconciling discrepancies "horizontally" within and across content areas, and then "vertically" across grade levels as well. And further, it's no longer just about your class or content area, but also standards from a dozen other organizations that all chime in with well-intentioned but ultimately unsustainable to-do lists.

So how do we make sense of this confusion?

We all have our mentors and role models that we look to when problems and questions that arise in our lives. Especially in teaching. It’s crucial. One of my go-to mentors is a virtual mentor, and our conversations happen mostly in my head. See, my mother was a middle and high school science teacher. I spent my afternoons and weekends in her classroom, setting up physics labs and organizing chemicals and supplies, listening to her favorite Motown hits. And though she lost her battle with cancer before I ever stepped in a classroom in my teacher role, I still hear her voice, feel her guidance, and think of her when I’m grappling with an education-related issue, such as the plethora of standards we are supposed to toggle between as educators.

My mother was no ordinary teacher. She was creative, spunky, witty, sharp, and so down-to-earth. She had a way of attacking complex ideas and tasks so would make them seem manageable. She wouldn’t tackle this question with a simple ole’ answer. And neither will I.

So, what would Sandra Jean say? When we are faced with the overwhelming thought of lesson planning using the myriad of content standards available to “guide” us as teachers today, what can we do to prevent the queeziness in our bellies? Let’s think about lesson planning and standards in the spirit of Sandy Allen. Let’s approach this with a little bit of spunk and sass: Motown style.

Below are some tips of the trade:

  1. “I only have eyes for you.” A Flamingos classic. So what does this testimony of love have to do with standards and lesson planning? Keep it simple and streamlined. Focus on one standard at a time and really peel back the layers behind it. Don’t get overwhelmed, especially when you are first starting. Work with a laser-like focus on that one standard, think about the journey to get there. You can add in the other pieces later. Start off small and manageable.
  2. “So happy together.” Though we stray a bit from the Motown theme, The Turtles were onto something about collaboration. One of the best things about our profession is that we don’t go at anything along (or at least we shouldn’t). So what to do when you are feeling a bit grumpy and confused about the content and standards? Saddle up beside your colleagues. Lesson plan together. Problem solve collaboratively. This can be especially useful once you are comfortable enough planning with your grade level or with your content team (horizontally), and then perhaps shift to planning across the content areas or across grade levels . Present your idea for a lesson, ask your peers for the feedback and ideas, and see what happens. All of a sudden the media specialist is working in the NETS with a guided inquiry learning experience during your class’s library time, the music teacher is piggybacking with some great rhythm lessons during your specials. The standards are falling together like a stack of dominoes. Lean on each other, work together. We are each other’s best ally.
  3. “Reach out! I’ll be there.” The Four Tops sure knew what they were talking about! Don’t be afraid to reach out to a mentor for help. Ask questions. Ask to see their lessons, on paper and/or in person. Then debrief. Reflect. Just don’t close your door and assume you can figure it out on your own in isolation. We are stronger as teachers and as a profession when we are working together. I remember advice I received from one teacher before my first teaching job: no matter what happened, to just keep smiling, close my door, and act like everything was okay. That got me 2 days into my year before I realized I couldn’t do it on my own...I needed to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out!

There are more words of wisdom from the motor city coming. So put your “Superstition” aside and I’ll see you again tomorrow for more tips that will have you “Dancing in the Street.”

Photo courtesy of James Palinsad

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