Teachers create lesson plans to serve as guides in helping students achieve intended learning outcomes. Whether a lesson plan is in a particular format is not as relevant as whether or not the plan actually describes (1) what the teacher expects the student to know, understand and be able to do, (2) how the student will be engaged in the learning, and (3) what evidence the teacher will accept that the student has demonstrated mastery of the identified knowledge, skills and concepts noted. Plans that can be interpreted or implemented in many different ways are probably not well-designed lessons. A key component to developing a quality lesson plan is specificity. A well-written lesson plan contains a set of elements that are descriptive in process.
Successful teachers are good planners and thinkers. By thinking carefully about that which the lesson is to accomplish, we improve our lesson planning skills. Using lesson plans for each class helps teachers incorporate best practices in teaching and learning in every lesson; this, in turn, helps students meet learning objectives for the identified course. While there is no one “best way” to plan lessons, there are fundamental components found in quality lesson plans. A careful review of the most common styles indicates that most styles contain the following elements linked to what is known about the promotion of student learning:
The West Virginia Department of Education and the Office of Education Performance Audits met to review the purpose and design of quality lesson planning. The content within the attached Memorandum from Dr. Gus Penix, Director of the Office of Education Performance Audits, was developed in collaboration with the leadership of WVDE.
Among the numerous resources on the Teach 21 website are lesson and unit plans written by classroom teachers across the state. You will note that each of the following types of lesson planning required a specific template, however careful review of these designs demonstrates common components across all templates:
Of particular interest is the description of each component of the Standards Based Unit Template: Big Ideas; CSOs; Essential Questions; Identification of what students should Know, Understand and be able to Do; Instructional Strategies; Materials/Resources/Websites; and Assessments and Rubrics. This information is found at the following link:
Within the standards based unit plans, the reader will find detailed daily lesson plans. The Lesson Plan Template includes the identified Essential Question for the lesson; Sponge Activity; the method for Activation of Prior Knowledge; Vocabulary Development; Skill Lesson; Active Literacy Strategy; Post Literacy Strategy; Reflection and Materials needed. A detailed description of each component can be found at the following link:
An examination of the Project Based Learning Design Template http://wvde.state.wv.us/teach21/pbl.html reveals a planning process that is more constructivist in nature. Constructivism is a theory of learning in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. This thinking often represents a more open type of planning on the teacher’s part; however, it is important that the teacher design instruction based upon the adopted learning objectives, gather resources and provide students with an opportunity to explore, build and demonstrate their learning focused on the identified objectives. It shifts the learning environment from one which is very instructor-centered to one that is very learner-centered, and this is reflected in how the lesson plans are written. The 5 E’s Lesson Planning Model is often associated with constructivist learning design: Engage (students encounter the material, define their questions, plan their necessary tasks, make connections between the new and the known and identify that which is relevant). Explore (students are directly involved with the materials, inquiry drives the learning process, and they work as a team to share and build their knowledge).Explain (the learners explain the discoveries, processes and concepts, learned through written, verbal or creative projects or products. The teacher supplies the resources, feedback, vocabulary and assists with the clarification of misconceptions). Elaborate (learners expand their knowledge, make connections with similar concepts, apply their learning to other situations, and sometimes identify new inquiries to be made). Evaluate (an ongoing process that involves both the learners and the teacher as they conduct checks for understanding, appropriately use rubrics and checklists, conduct interviews, and present and/or review portfolios, problem-based products or embedded assessments). Results are used to evaluate and modify future instructional needs.
Universal Design for Learning is an approach to designing instruction, materials and content to benefit students of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting. The Universal Design for Learning process benefits ALL students in the classroom by providing equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. Universal design allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the teacher monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods. Universal design does not remove academic challenges; it removes barriers to access. The teacher engaged in the universal design process (1) identifies the essential course content to be learned-- the objective and the learning targets; (2) clearly identifies the essential content and clearly expresses any feedback given to the student; (3) naturally integrates the supports or scaffolds for learning into the classroom learning environment; (4) uses a variety of instructional methods when presenting material to the students; (5) allows for multiple ways for students to demonstrate understanding of the identified course content; (6) uses technology as a tool to increase accessibility for all students; and (7) provides frequent opportunities for any student, or small group of students, to share questions or concerns relevant to their learning.
Teachers who practice Universal Design for Learning provide a variety of methods of representation in acknowledgement of their awareness of the students’ varied learning preferences and needs. These teachers construct lesson plans that provide students with various methods of engagement and interaction with the course content, providing for varied skill levels, preferences and interests through student choice. These lesson designs provide students with multiple means of demonstrating mastery of the identified lesson objectives.
Key to success with Universal Design for Learning is a deep understanding of Differentiated Instruction. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, Foundations and Policy at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia; author of several books and many articles and consultant with ASCD, Differentiated Instruction (DI) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that changes all aspects of how we approach students and our classrooms. DI is a teacher’s response to the learner’s needs and is guided by principles of differentiation, such as respectful tasks, clearly stated learning goals, flexible grouping, ongoing assessment and adjustments and appropriate degrees of challenge. When teachers implement Differentiated Instruction they differentiate content, process and/or product according to a student’s readiness, interests and/or learning profile through a wide range of instructional strategies. A variety of research-based instructional strategies are described and examples are given on the Strategy Bank page of Teach 21 website http://wvde.state.wv.us/strategybank/.
A school-based or county-level team of stakeholders focused on developing a lesson plan template, or defining the components of a quality lesson plan, should consider the following three questions relevant to the goal of planning a lesson, with that goal being student learning.
A rich discussion of these three questions should provide the stakeholders with the recommended/required/identified components of a lesson plan in their school/district.