Learning about lesson planning: 3 months in

This week’s blog condenses the past couple of months’ Patreon blog posts. Although those updates are limited to patrons’ eyes only, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my “old news” here so folks could see what I’ve been up to as I drive toward implementing lesson plans for my books.

The first lesson plan is nearly complete! And while it may require some tweaks, early feedback from actual teachers indicates it’s a solid start.

The difference between curriculum and lesson plans

Yep — I started out at this extremely basic level. I realized I was using these terms somewhat interchangeably; I thought of curriculum as an overarching collection of lesson plans, so for example, a Living Wild Side by Side curriculum of lesson plans per book.

You would think that being married to a former teacher would give me insights into lesson planning… and you’d be wrong! For one thing, he taught at the high school level. For another, he hasn’t taught for ten years. A lot has changed in education in a decade! So I set out to learn about lesson planning and its place in curriculum development.

I wasn’t particularly wrong, and there may still be room for a curriculum that follows the whole series; I’m just at the beginning of my learning process. But Googling articles about the difference helped me gain a new perspective on these terms.

The W.I.S.E. Owl website described “curriculum mapping” as a collaborative process that plans out 10 15-day (3 school week) units for its reading program. “A curriculum map will contain the who, what, when, and where of the lesson. WHO needs to know WHAT by WHEN and WHERE will the learning occur,” author Cathy Collier writes.

The “How” part, the process by which teachers will arrive at these end products? That’s the lesson planning.

Planning for all learning styles

As a writer, I am strongly attuned to learning through reading and writing. I prefer to read rather than listen or watch (which I find distracting). When I’m forced to use auditory or visual modes, I take notes to make the words make sense in my mind.

My sons, however, do prefer visual learning modes like videos — and depending on what I need to learn, such as computer troubleshooting or animal care, I might become a “kinesthetic learner,” preferring hands-on experience that keeps me grounded.

Those are all learning styles underpinning the VARK learning modalities, which are used in workplaces and for on-the-job training as well as in schools. In classrooms, ideally, instruction should take all learning styles or profiles into account.

For example, writing in 2015 for Edutopia, Matt Levinson related his experience working with a kinesthetic learner who involved his class in putting on a version of The Colbert Report to demonstrate learning:

“In a less traditional and more experiential format, he demonstrated mastery of content and concepts, and his peers loved his stellar performance. He felt a renewed sense of competence, and from that point forward, his in-class performance flourished on both traditional and nontraditional assessments.”

As a corollary, of course, learning modalities or profiles are often a function of disabilities or neurodivergence, such as ADHD or autism. For example, a child with dysgraphia or dyslexia will struggle with reading and writing exercises, while a child who struggles with auditory processing might prefer written words and/or diagrams — and both might gravitate to kinesthetic activities.

Yet, alternative modalities don’t come easily to me. (I once attempted to script a marketing video. The script looked great on paper. In action, nothing matched at. all.) My hope is to find exercises through my contacts and their websites.

For example, the “Be A Raccoon” game described by MaryEllen Schoeman in my blog from April is a great kinesthetic activity that matches South Carolina’s state science standard 2.L.5A.2: “Construct explanations for how structures (including structures for seeing, hearing, grasping, protection, locomotion, and obtaining and using resources) of different animals help them survive.”

Lesson planning for the Living Wild series

In my first attempt to tie lessons to Common Core standards, I simply listed out standards and included a few lesson-like activities in the back matter of Raccoon Rescue. It was a start, but it wasn’t a plan.

More importantly, it didn’t accomplish what Common Core lesson plans are supposed to do: accommodate students with all different learning styles and abilities. For books like the Living Wild Side by Side series, which are designed with dyslexic readers in mind, I felt like I could do better.

I also tripped up in thinking I would need a lesson plan for each standard, even if I couldn’t immediately see how the book might support it. For example, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.4 wants children to be able to describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.

I don’t use these structures (at least not intentionally) in Raccoon Rescue or Raccoon Retreat, so a teacher planning their curriculum for the year would use a different book to teach this competence.

Another wrinkle: South Carolina is among the 9 states that don’t use CCSS. It has its own standards — and they aren’t limited at lower grade levels, as CCSS, to English Language Arts and Mathematics. State science standards (CCSS doesn’t call for them until 6th grade) require Grade 2 students to learn about animals and their environments in Life Science, and for Grade 3 students to learn further about environments and habitats.

These are pretty straightforward, and in some ways might even be easier to develop lesson plans for than for ELA, because I’ve personally found literacy standards to be more abstract. For example, Standard 5 for both second and third graders asks students to “determine meaning and develop logical interpretations by making predictions, inferring, drawing conclusions, analyzing, synthesizing, providing evidence, and investigating multiple interpretations.”

There’s a lot of room for interpretation there, even with standards broken down. At that point, my goal became twofold: 1) find a good lesson plan template and 2) to deal with the abstractions, study actual lesson plans. I also have to consider whether there might be overlap between the science and literacy standards — if, for example, inferring animal characteristics from the text manages to do double duty.

So many templates, so little guidance

You would think it would be easy to find a lesson plan template online, and you’d be right; in fact, it’s a little too easy. The thing is, it seems like there are as many lesson plans as there are teachers. Teachers create and share them with one another on sites like ShareMyLesson and TeachersPayTeachers; Scholastic has a whole range of book-related lesson plans. There’s no standard, one-size-fits-all lesson plan; some plans are time-based — fitting into weekly and monthly schedules — while others focus on the outcome: the standard students are expected to meet.

In short, they’re designed for people who already know what they need based on personal teaching styles and goals. Not for people who have never done it before.

For a book, the outcome approach seemed to make the most sense. Basically, you start with the standard and work your way backward from there. What will the students know or be able to do? And how will you measure this?

Other key components include the learning tasks or experiences themselves, including warm-up and “mini” lessons that students can do before moving on to the main activity and following that, a closing activity or reflection. Materials, technology, and other resources are important because a multimodal learning approach needs to take into account, well, multimedia resources.

The beginnings of a lesson plan

Because the Living Wild Side by Side books include illustrations, I chose to start with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.7: “Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.” (This maps to the South Carolina SCCCR.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1.)

With that in mind, I started to brainstorm around what Raccoon Rescue is trying to convey: the fundamental misunderstandings that lead to conflicts between humans and wildlife. The learning goal, then, is for second- and third-graders to be able to “bridge” from the pictures to the text, using the pictures as supporting documents for the words they’re reading.

I came up with an activity that I think fits the bill. Again, if you’d like access to it, you can sign up over at Patreon to support my efforts — this is by no means the end! As Raccoon Retreat draws closer to publication, I’m looking forward to working out additional lesson plans to support the series. Sign up for updates!

Image by Steve Riot from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Learning about lesson planning: 3 months in

  1. Carol Baldwin

    This is really helpful information, Christa. Plan to save it for when I need to do the same. thanks for sharing! Carol Baldwin

    1. christammiller

      You’re very welcome Carol, thanks for reading!

  2. Cat Michaels

    Wow, as a teacher before Common Core, I developed individual educational plans for students with special needs, but nothing like the intricacies you describe for Common Core standards. Good on YOU for tackling its challenges!

    1. christammiller

      Thanks Cat! My husband was likewise a teacher before Common Core, both in special ed and high school history, and I remember he was able to develop lesson plans more or less carte blanche. I did end up feeling the need to enlist the help of a couple of teacher friends to vet what I’m coming up with, just in case what makes sense to me really makes sense. It gives me a new level of respect for what professional teachers do to stay on top of best practices!

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