Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 55: How Can I Approach My Planning So That I Don’t Treat the Lessons in the Curriculum Like a Script?
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How Can I Approach My Planning So That I Don’t Treat the Lessons in the Curriculum Like a Script?
The EL Education K–8 Language Arts Curriculum is a thinking teacher’s curriculum. It is not a script. Our goal is for teachers to be less concerned with fidelity to the words on the page and more concerned with upholding the integrity of the purpose of the curriculum. Teaching our curriculum will require a different kind of planning than you may be used to, particularly at this time when so many teachers are using the curriculum to facilitate instruction in the remote environment. Whether in the classroom, hybrid, or remote, you won’t need to plan a lesson from scratch, but you will need to do some intellectual preparation before each lesson, with your specific students in mind, to make it your own and to best meet the needs of your students..
Jessie Davidson, Grade 4 teacher at Hollis Innovation Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, explains “I’m able to make [the lesson] my own by understanding the needs of my students and reading through the curriculum and prioritizing the questions that I think are going to be the highest leverage points to get them to meet the standards and the learning targets of each unit.” You can see Davidson and her Grade 4 team at Hollis engage in strategic planning in this video.
Conducting lessons exactly as they are written and adhering strictly to the timing, language, and suggestions provided is possible, but it’s not necessarily typical, nor is it recommended, particularly in the remote environment. This fidelity to the way the curriculum is written doesn’t account for the dynamic and unpredictable ways in which students interact with the material. A question from a student may take the class in an unpredictable, but worthwhile, new direction; students may struggle to find the answer you want them to find in the text; or the realities of the classroom or technology issues in the remote environment can disrupt, delay, or redirect a lesson. These “hiccups” to the best-laid plans are actually the most predictable part of teaching. Knowing this, our goal is to help you teach the curriculum with integrity, so that making changes still results in students meeting standards and achieving at high levels.
The curriculum, and therefore each and every lesson, is designed around the idea that students read, think, talk, and write about the module topic. In some lessons there is a focus on one of these elements more than the others. For example, when writing an essay, a vast majority of the lesson will be spent writing that essay; however, students will likely still read a model, and think about and discuss their ideas with a peer before they put pencil to paper.
When planning, the first thing to identify is where and what students are reading, where they are thinking and what they are thinking about, where they are talking and what they are talking about, and where they are writing and what they are writing about, and how that cycle is mapped over a lesson. This will provide you with a mental map of the lesson.
The learning targets for each lesson are a tool you can use to identify the reading, thinking, talking, and writing demands of a lesson. You can track the learning targets through the lesson by using different colored highlighters or sticky notes to annotate where and why students are reading, thinking, talking, and writing. The suggestions that follow outline some ideas for intellectual preparation in each phase of the read, think, talk, write cycle.
Preparing to Read
- Pre-read the lesson texts with your specific students in mind, to have an idea of the kinds of issues students might face and raise. Identify the most important sections of the text based on the rest of the work happening in the lesson.
- To prepare for a close read, identify the purpose of the close read, and then flag the parts of the text most aligned with the purpose. Identify the close reading questions to prioritize. Also identify the parts of the text that will likely take the most time because they are challenging in terms of either language structure, vocabulary, or content. Be prepared to prioritize time here.
- If you know that a majority of your students will not have read the text in advance and will need to hear the text read aloud, consider:
- Are there specific excerpts that are more important to read aloud than others based on the work students will be doing with the text in the rest of the lesson? If so, focusing on these excerpts rather than trying to read the whole chapter aloud will ensure more time afterwards to dig into the content of the text.
- In the remote environment, consider how to make the best use of synchronous and asynchronous time and technology. Some questions to consider:
- Where can students do pre-reading in asynchronous time so that they already have an idea of what the text used in the lesson is about?
- Can you record yourself reading a close reading text aloud so that students can listen to it before the lesson?
- Where might reading groups be used in synchronous breakout rooms for students to practice reading fluency with the anchor text? How might you group students for this? Will there be a group of students in a group with the teacher to hear the text read aloud? Note that this might be too challenging with some of the complex texts that are used in close reads.
Preparing to Think
- The lessons outline a lot of questions to ask throughout the lesson, many of which build to support students in answering a bigger question. Identify and flag key questions that will require students to think deeply to ensure that, particularly in the virtual environment, you know to focus on them and leave sufficient wait time for thinking to occur. Wait time feels longer and more awkward in the virtual classroom, so plan to set a specific time for thinking, and use a timer.
Preparing to Talk
- Identify where in the lesson the students are talking, and flag this to ensure it is a priority. Ultimately, the lessons have been designed for students to be making their own meaning after they have read by thinking and talking to one another, so we want to ensure that student discussion and contribution occurs.
- In the remote classroom, consider how students will talk:
- Can students go into breakout rooms with a partner to talk about the question being posed or what is happening in the text?
- Where can total participation techniques be used for whole group sharing? What total participation techniques could be used (e.g., equity sticks)?
- Where could students use the chat box function? Or a Jam Board?
- Understanding the purposes and benefits of protocols will help you avoid the temptation to skip them or, to swap one protocol for another with a similar purpose that works more effectively in the remote environment. See our Virtual Instruction Guidance: Classroom Protocols.
Preparing to Write
- As with reading in the remote environment, consider how to make the best use of synchronous and asynchronous time, and technology. Some questions to consider:
- Which elements of the writing process need to happen synchronously? For example: shared writing, orally speaking the content of writing, and analyzing a model.
- Which elements of the writing process could happen asynchronously? For example: drafting, and providing peer feedback.
- How can technology be used to support asynchronous writing? For example: collaborative documents like Google Docs.
- Where can technology be used to support writing, particularly in the remote environment? Shared documents like Google Docs can support peer feedback through the comments, and engaging with online live platforms like Padlet and Poll Everywhere are supportive for live calibration and contribution through short contributions of writing.
While we have focused on preparation at the lesson level, teaching this curriculum with integrity requires deep knowledge of it. Knowing where you are headed over the long term allows you to make more informed decisions in the short term. If you are not sure what’s coming tomorrow or next week, you may find yourself feeling unsure of how to make informed decisions to best support your students’ learning today. On the other hand, if you have looked ahead and understand how standards spiral in and out of lessons over days and weeks, and you have analyzed the assessments and the ways in which students prepare for those assessments, you’ll be able to use your wisdom and experience as a teacher to be responsive to the needs of your students within your fast-paced, always changing classroom environment.
For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our books Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum and Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education 6–8 Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: ELcurriculumblog@eleducation.org.