The question is out: how many of you new teachers (1-5 years of teaching experience) in fact overplan your lessons? As a new teacher 12 years ago, I overplanned my lessons constantly in order to ensure that ALL students were engaged even if it meant restructuring the lesson.
In general, overplanning is a good habit to develop especially when they are used as back-up plans to support parts or even an entire lesson.
The problem however with overplanning becomes even more complicated and tricky during those unexpected moments. How do you know just exactly what activity to use? And for how long? How many activities? This is where experience and knowing the students and their abilities can play a strong role in deciding which activities are appropriate to use. Sometimes you might surprise yourself with your own little spontaneity and find out that you know more than you actually gave yourself credit for.
Overplanning is part of the new teacher’s “hit and miss.” When coping with difficult classes, I constantly overplanned because I eventually wanted to start “hitting” the right level, motivation and interest of my students. When I missed, I started pushing the panic zone leading to more overplanning and general overload.
But just for argument’s sake, let’s take the following classroom situation:
Let’s say you’ve planned twenty minute independent reading session for your middle school students but for some inexplicable reason, they are not focused. You later learn (in an indirect way) that they don’t have the some of the more important reading skills to cope with the story you’ve instructed them to read. More specifically, there are too many unknown words and the theme of the story is rather sophisticated for their middle school years. Then what?
So before you start wipping out those backup plans, make sure you have the following in order:
1. Make sure you plan strong transitions. Look at transitions like “glue” holding the pre-middle-post parts together. Weak transitions are a sure sign that you might loose a few students along the way. You’ll also want to ensure that the transition really does serve their purpose and help connect the introduction to the main part of a lesson. Transitions do not necessarily need to be an additional activity; it’s enough to say a few sentences as “cues” to hint to students what is in store for them.
A new teacher might say to his/her class after they’ve predicted some of the story’s contents and preteaching new vocabulary: “okay, so now let’s confirm some of your predictions and see how many new vocabulary words are in context.”
2. Don’t extend too many of your originally planned activities beyond the original set time. This is where experience will make you a pro and yo’ll be able to eventually distinguish between real or “money” time of trial and error. How much time do students really need to accomplish the task effectively?
In make sure you have enough time for each part, vary the time sequences. The main bulk of your lesson should be no more than 25 minutes while plan activities for just 5 minutes or so. Plan multiple lessons on the same topic if need be so you are not pressed for time.
3. Carefully take note where students are starting to lose focus and become off-task. Ask a fellow colleague or teacher mentor to give you honest solid feedback that aims to improve your teaching. Here is a checklist of general troubleshooting areas.
4. Do you overplan your lessons to include some differentiated instruction? For each level and ability, make sure you have at least 1 activity you can pull from a hat as needed. Write that actiity down and make note of its success. Save the experience for a later date.
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Consider the fact that perhaps the students weren’t focused, which is another classroom issue altogether and requires a different set of actions.
So the question again, is: how many of you new teachers (1-5 years of teaching experience) overplan your lessons? In which classroom situations do they help? Why do you do it? Are other tips you may give to new teachers?