Using Backward Design to Create Dynamic Lessons

Program Standard 4

4. Content Knowledge – The teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.

4.4 Element – Designing Coherent Instruction in the area of Lesson and Unit Structure

4.4 Example of Proficient – The lesson or unit has a clearly defined structure around which activities are organized. Progression of activities is even, with reasonable time allocations.

Effective teaching requires a dedication to thoughtful planning to ensure that lessons are dynamic and relevant. According to Marzano (2007), “The decisions teachers make about the focus of units of instruction, the lessons within those units, and the segments within each lesson provide the infrastructure for effective or ineffective teaching” (Chapter 10, Section 2, para. 4). He also argues that flexibility is a key factor for student success as it is necessary to amend lessons based on student comprehension. It is important for all students to receive the individual scaffolding they need in order to thrive academically. It is also essential for teachers to anticipate difficulties or misconceptions that students may face when learning a subject so that they can create contingencies. The more prepared that an educator is when teaching a lesson the better the outcomes stand to be. Marzano (2007) argues, “Experienced teachers were better able to anticipate situations that were likely to be encountered and were able to generate contingency plans based on those possibilities” (Chapter 10, Section 2, para. 5). Although veteran educators have past experiences to help inform their practice, new teachers can also take the time to consciously prepare for multiple scenarios. Thoughtful planning also helps teachers ensure that lessons progress in a logical manner and that all learning outcomes are meaningfully addressed.

backward-design

In order to achieve a cohesive lesson, Wiggins and McTighe (2005) suggest starting with the desired results based on standards and work backward to then create materials and activities around that end goal (p. 8). They argue that when teachers do this they are able to see assessments as part of the learning process and use them formatively throughout the unit instead of just as a summative check of knowledge at the end (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, p. 8). This style allows teachers to use informal comprehension checks to adapt lessons and provide students with the proper support to succeed. When teachers plan lessons in this manner it becomes easier to center them around standards and learning targets instead of having to try to integrate them as an afterthought. Many new teachers often first think of fun activities or rely heavily on textbooks to create lessons without thinking about how standards will fit into them. It becomes easy to get attached to an idea about how fun or exciting an activity could be without looking at the importance of how it will fit into the learning goals. This approach pushes teachers to use backward design to ensure that each lesson is impactful and situated within the larger context of a unit. It also enables teachers to focus on the information that needs to be taught and the manner which is most conducive to the subject matter. Once the standards have been identified and the learning target is established, it becomes easier to break down the learning into manageable segments and create formative assessments to check and see if students are progressing through the material. Ultimately effective lessons are well sequenced and thoughtfully planned and successful teachers are able to adapt as circumstances arise.

References
Marzano, R. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. [Kindle DX version] Retrieved from Amazon
Wiggins, G.P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Media
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on the website Educational Technology.

Providing Equitable Education To All Students

Program Standard 5

5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

5.1 Element – Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

5.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.

equity

There is a debate in this country about whether or not to provide certain students on a 504 plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) with special accommodations. Those who argue against it say that it leaves students ill-prepared for independent living, that it allows students to graduate without doing much work, and that it is unfair to other students who are required to complete their assignments (Evans, 2008, pp. 324-325). However, an appropriate accommodation does not do anything more than create an equitable environment for all students. According to Byrnes, “An accommodation is an adjustment to an activity or setting that removes a barrier presented by a disability so a person can have access equal to that of a person without a disability. An accommodation does not guarantee success or a specific level of performance. Appropriate accommodations provide the opportunity for a person with a disability to participate equitably in a situation or activity” (Evans, 2008, p. 317).

An accommodation does not allow students to go through school without any effort but merely removes obstacles that would leave certain students far behind their peers academically. Providing accommodations to students also does not make them less prepared for the real world because in this country it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their disability. 504 plans ensure that future employers cannot overlook a candidate based on their disability and also requires them to provide accommodations for that employee. However, it is important that students needing accommodations be given the proper support so that the right measures are taken in each case. Far too often the same accommodations are made for several students with a wide range of abilities. Byrnes states, “Disabilities differ in individuals. Accommodations must be considered for each individual, not by disability category. The point is to understand the disability and the learning situation and then determine if these interact to pose a barrier to equal access” (Evans, 2008, p. 319). It is important that teachers and other professionals treat each student individually so that the best solution can be found.

References
Evans, D. L. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin.
Media
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Flickr following creative commons licensing.

Character Education In The Hidden Curriculum Of Schools

Program Standard 5

5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

5.1 Element – Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

5.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.

school

Character education in schools is a matter of contention for a number of reasons. Some believe that it leads to the indoctrination of a narrow set of values while others simply object to it because they contend that it takes away from valuable classroom instruction on subject matter. However, Elkind and Sweet point out that it is deeply ingrained in schools without even being a part of explicit instruction:

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear—you are a character educator. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, custodian, or school bus driver, you are helping shape the character of the kids you come in contact with. It’s in the way you talk, the behaviors you model, the conduct you tolerate, the deeds you encourage, the expectations you transmit. Yes, for better or worse, you are already doing character education. (Evans, 2008, p. 336)

All of the aspects of character development that Elkind and Sweet speak of are a part of the hidden curriculum within schools. There is no way to avoid influencing the character of students and teachers should be cognizant of their effect on students so that they send the right messages.

How a teacher structures and manages the classroom will set the tone for how students interact with one another. If the classroom is an inclusive space where all opinions are valued then those students will understand that differing points of view in the classroom, as well as larger society, are not only acceptable but also beneficial. Those same students can be taught to disagree with respect which will inevitably influence how they interact with divergent viewpoints for the rest of their life. How teachers interact with students and the underlying lessons that are obtained from the discourse between peers will stay with them into adulthood. As such, teachers need to take the time to explore and understand their own unconscious biases so that those ideas will not unintentionally permeate the classroom. It is crucial that teachers hold students to the same high standard so that all students have the chance to rise to that challenge.

While character education is an inevitable part of schools because of the culture and the interactions that take place, it can also be intentionally integrated into the curriculum without taking away from instructional time. There are so many opportunities during English, social studies, history, science, and even math lessons where teachers can seamlessly work discussions of character into the discourse. Instead of explicitly instructing students on one set of values, educators can encourage them to explore their own viewpoints and develop their own opinions. Teachers can encourage differing perspectives while fostering and encouraging mutual respect between students. It is never the teacher’s job to impose ideologies on students but instead to allow them to explore their own beliefs in a safe, inclusive environment where each voice has merit. Students will benefit long after graduation if they have the skills to meet opposition with regard and dignity.

References
Evans, D. L. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin.
Media
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Flickr following creative commons licensing.