14 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask Themselves About That Lesson Plan

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14 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask Themselves About That Lesson Plan

Ed note: On May 26, 2015, Grant Wiggins passed away. Grant was tremendously influential on TeachThought’s approach to education, and we were lucky enough for him to contribute his content to our site. Occasionally, we are going to go back and re-share his most memorable posts. This post on ‘transfer’ is one of those posts.

Thankfully his company, Authentic Education, is carrying on and extending the work that Grant developed.

by Grant Wiggins

How do you plan?  Here are some of the questions that I think we need better answers to…

  1. Do you plan each day? Weekly? By the unit?
  2. How often do you adjust your future plans based on formative results?
  3. How often is a textbook the source of the plan? What % of the plan is directly from a textbook?
  4. How free are you to plan your own course/units/lessons?
  5. How often is district curriculum and/or course map referenced in your own planning?
  6. How detailed are your plans?
  7. What’s the role of templates and checklists in your planning?
  8. How do you think, ideally, you should plan for optimal preparation and good results?
  9. How much of the planning process, ideally, should be mandated or at least recommended?

Typical plans focus too much on fragmented day-to-day lessons and activities on discrete topics instead of deriving coherent plans ‘backward’ from long-term performance. The result is the beast called “coverage.” More subtly, many plans focus far too much on what the teacher and students will be doing instead of mapping out a plan for causing specific results and changes in ability, attitude, and behavior. A surprising number of plans do not make student engagement a central design consideration. And most plans do not explicitly design in a plan B many plans have no Plan B when Plan A doesn’t work. And even larger number do not plan mindful of predictable misconceptions and rough spots.

The value of a template – with cautions. It was for these reasons and more that Jay McTighe and I wrote Understanding by Design 14 years ago. We clearly struck a chord. The book is in its 2nd edition, over a million copies have been sold and used in countries all over the world, and over 150 schools of education use the book to train teachers in unit writing. Over the years, countless people have thanked us for helping them become more thoughtful and disciplined in their planning.

However, never did Jay and I intend for our template to be a mandatory act of pointless drudgery, a required piece of busywork required by thoughtless supervisors. Never did Jay and I intend people to fixate on filling in boxes. Never did Jay and I advocate using the UbD Unit Template as a lesson planner. Indeed, in our latest books on unit planning we stress this point in an entire module. You can download an excerpt here:  Mod O – on lesson plans (excerpt).

We have hardly treated our own Template as a sacred untouchable icon. We have changed it 4 different times over the past 14 years, and we have provided examples in which various features of the Template were highlighted or left out. In short, we had zero intent of putting teachers in a planning straitjacket. Alas, some mandate-minded supervisors are currently fitting all their teachers for one.

Rather, as with any tool, the template is meant to be a helpful aid, a mental check. The idea of a good checklist is what’s key. Atul Gawande has written extensively on how the “pre-flight” checklist in medicine, modeled on the one used in every airplane cockpit, has saved lives. Here is an article on its power to save lives.

An instructional planning template can save intellectual lives, we think. By having to think of the big ideas; by focusing on transfer as a goal; by worrying about whether goals and assessments align, by being asked to predict misconceptions and rough spots in the learning, the Template keeps key design questions front and center that tend to get lost in typical planning, where teachers too easily think about content to be covered.

Years ago, in working with college professors as part of Lee Shulman’s Scholarship of Teaching program, a History Professor from Notre Dame said, “I can’t use a template. It’s so, so, so – schoolish!”

I replied, “Do you like the planning questions in the boxes?”

He said he did.

“Then, ignore the template and consider the questions,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, “I can do that.”

Precisely.

Planning questions. Here are the current UbD template elements framed as questions, for idea-generation and double-checking one’s draft plan.

14 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask Themselves About That Lesson Plan

  1. Bottom line, what should learners be able to do with the content?
  2. What content standards and program- or mission-related goal(s) will this unit address?
  3. What thought-provoking questions will foster inquiry, meaning-making, and transfer?
  4. What specifically do you want students to understand? What inferences should they make? What misconceptions are predictable and will need overcoming?
  5. What facts and basic concepts should students know and be able to recall and use long-term?
  6. What discrete skills and processes should they be able to use, with good judgment and on their own?
  7. What criteria will be used in each assessment to evaluate attainment of the desired results?
  8. What assessments will provide valid evidence of the goals?
  9. What other evidence will you collect to determine whether goals were achieved?
  10. How will you pre-assess and formatively assess? How will you adjust, if needed (as suggested by feedback)?
  11. Does the learning plan reflect principles of learning and best practices?
  12. How will you fully engage everyone and hold their interest throughout the unit?
  13. How must the plan be tweaked, in light of recent results (and based on ongoing student needs and interests)?
  14. Is there tight alignment across goals, assessments, and learning?

Please let us know how you plan. So, please let us know how you plan, in as much detail as you can provide, in the Comments Section. Happy Summer Planning!

Links on research on planning:

Links to templates for lessons and units:

14 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask Themselves About That Lesson Plan; adapted image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation

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