Challenging your pedagogy and maybe even your program

All, Pillar, Teaching Tips

As a National Writing Project site director I think about pedagogy and education all year round, but I become truly immersed in it during the month of June. I am leading an online Summer Institute in Google+ as well as hanging about (some) in the NWP Google+ community connecting all the sites. In addition, my site is holding its traditional Invitational Summer Institute (led by some of my amazing teacher-leaders) and I have (limited) participation in person and online via Twitter (#MWPSI) with that group. I could spend all my time thinking about and talking about and learning about the many interesting topics we cover in this incredibly wide-ranging professional development but alas many other responsibilities need my attention (NWP site work is much more than the ISI plus my own research and my family etc. all make calls on my time).

nwp-logoWhen I read Christopher Leman’s post “Three Questions When Lesson Planning” I immediately shared the link with both groups of #MWPSI teachers because it really spoke to an important shift in my own pedagogy and the key to my teaching philosophy. His three questions are:

  1. Will this lesson lead to a large volume of work that is rigorous for the students?
  2. Is this a strategy that students can come back to/that will live beyond today?
  3. How does this lesson connect to the end goal/standards/essential questions of the unit?

I’ve always planned with the whole semester in mind, but it was not until I began planning with the big picture in mind that my teaching really improved. Too often teachers fall into a very human failing – we make the lesson about us. (We do this when we present to each other too but that’s another blog post). We plan a fantastic lesson, lecture, activity but too often that is an end point rather than a stepping stone. We can still do those amazing lessons but we need to hand it over to our students to give them a chance to amaze us. We need to ask ourselves – what can my lesson inspire my students to do and how can I give them the chance to do it?

Slide8The issue of transfer has always been important to me and even more so after becoming involved with NWP work. Students are not going to understand how to use that nifty strategy for their next assignment in your class let alone in a different class in the future if you do not explicitly discuss it with them. Don’t just tell them but show them different ways to use that strategy by using it again and again in different lessons, assignments, and contexts. Have a conversation with the class about ways that strategy can help them – let them brainstorm and join the conversation too. If this is an important lesson/tool/tip/strategy (and if it is not then why so much emphasis on it) then it is worth using it again and again and really making sure it is part of your students’ toolkits.

I explain to my students how a particular assignment/activity relates to the big picture. Not only does it help me think it through (and honestly, if I didn’t make myself do it, I would probably skip this step) but it also helps the students see the big picture too. One of my primary goals for my students it to make them self-regulating and reflective learners because I think that is a key skill they can carry forward into any educational, personal, or professional context. Once they are aware and understand the goals of a particular activity they are much less likely to see it as busy work or unimportant, especially if you make them partners in the work.

Slide4The more I think about these three simple rules for teachers to follow during lesson planning the more that I like them, but I also think they could serve a larger purpose when it comes to education. Even if we are not invited to larger conversations that drive decisions at the state and national levels, most of us have some input at the local level – in our department or program if not in our district or institution. When I think about what is wrong with my current program the more I think we could do really well to ask these three questions. If you replace the word lesson with class or requirement it really makes you think about a program in a different light, doesn’t it?

What questions do you ask to inspire your lesson planning? What key concept really changed the way you think about teaching?