Backwards Mapping for Planning Instruction

In planning instruction toward a dynamite lesson plan, one extremely effective form of CFU is called curriculum mapping. It is referred to by many teachers as: “backwards mapping.” This can be used to strategically work toward test goals.

Backwards Mapping Requires Reflection

A Dynamite lesson plan is great, but we musn’t forget that assessment is a key part. In a given lesson plan format, such as EDI, it is often called CFU (Check for Understanding). As teachers, we need to know what stuents know when they know it.. EDI is a form of instruction. Today I am writing to you about planning instruction which is a “whole different animal,” as they say. Before the lesson plan, there must be backwards mapping.

Curriculum Mapping Requires Testing

Backward mapping requires a test. The test becomes the “data” for use in making a “backward map.” The test ideally is calibrated with the same standards as you plan to master with the students. Once you’ve given the test you can analyze the data by noting the percentage of accuracy on each standards. Depending on the teaching situation, you might decide standards that 70% of the class got correctly are no longer needed in your instruction. Whatever your lesson plan format, since we know the brain needs review you can always review that throughout the year.

Make the Map and Take the Road

The items where the students had less than a proficient percentage now become part of your instruction “map.” You then take those standards and create your instruction going forward. Let’s face it: no one wants their students to fail. This is an excellent way to focus on the toughest standards and guide your instruction to mastery of the concepts. This is a big job when you really get into it. That’s why I recommend doing it on a trimester or other periodical basis. Don’t do it nightly or even weekly. Wait for the data to be relevant, over time.

No Instant Gratification but …

Remember also that the brain likes small bites so resist the urge to re-teach it all at once. Teaching is a job of patience and tenacity not instant gratification. However, through setting goals and using strategies like backward mapping, we can experience the rush and satisfaction of seeing goals achieved.

If you use backward mapping or plan to implement it or something like it into your teaching, please let us know in the comments.

Music in the Classroom – In Some Strong Hearts

Now, with these blinding budget cuts in California and across the nation, we need to dig deep to unveil what our true values are.

musicThe title is true for my school anyway. Amid the rigorous academics demands on school children these days, it is refreshing to see teachers keeping music in the classroom. Most people from my generation got some music instruction, or at least music appreciation, in elementary school.  I will never forget Mr. Davis pulling us out of class once a week and teaching us to pluck the guitar saying “Santa Ana freeway” in time. I’ve been carrying that torch, in my small way, ever since I started teaching, keeping music in the schools.

With kids it’s best to start with the basics and work their way out: the parts, the strings, the chords, then teaching with songs, and later riffs and solos. It’s great to know that some administrators, teachers, and districts believe that music in the classroom should remain “still standing” even in these times of recession.

¿Que? When Language Barriers Get Funny

Scott had developed a shocking trend of “mooning” people on the playground. It was first brought to my attention by the noon-duty aides and then later by other students. Each time I gave him a detention and he missed his recess . . . but the mooning continued so I wrote a note home.

worldlanguagesThis post is a break in discussing classroom lesson plans, one of my classic jokes in language teaching. Scott was a wild 4th grader. He was the first out the door at recess and the last one in. He was also extremely funny to a first year teacher. While other teachers had given up on the hispanic lightning bolt, I was ready for the challenge. It was the stuff that esl lessons online are made of only computers weren’t much then.

Scott had developed a shocking trend of “mooning” people on the playground. It was first brought to my attention by the noon-duty aides and then later by other students. Each time I gave him a detention and he missed his recess . . . but the mooning continued so I wrote a note home. Normally, this would amount to humor but to a teacher it means some creative discipline.

Being a new teacher, I was not as savvy as I am now after almost 10 years. It didn’t occur to me that his parents might not be able to read a note in English. Scott accepted the note and I told him the customary warning that if he did not bring it back the next day signed, he would have no recess and there would be a call home.

When he brought the note back, I assumed the issue was resolved . . . but then recess came. Yup, he did it again. This time I had to schedule a parent conference. I spoke timid Spanish then but I did speak with his mother over the phone and she verbosely apologized in her native tongue. We made an appointment to meet about it and I made sure I had a bilingual aide on site available to clearly translate the meeting. What followed might be considered the best of interactive esl lessons, for me anyway.

In the meeting Scott sat next to his mother and I began to explain how ashamed I was to be Scott’s teacher when he did this at recess. The mother listened to the translator and then replied in Spanish to the effect of: “I know, we hate it when we do it at home and at the store, but everybody slips sometimes you know?”

After hearing the exact translation I was astonished. I said with the clearest Spanish I knew: “le permiten removar sus pantalones en publico a veces?” If you don’t speak Spanish, I said “You allow him to take off his pants in public?” If you do speak Spanish, you can see I need some tutoring. Then she said:

“QUE?”

The woman flushed immediately and looked at her son with a furor I rarely see in moms. She babbled something quick and angry at her son, slapped him on the head and then said in broken English:

“He told us you were mad at heem ’cause he deen’t tuck hees shirt een.”

And after that, Scott behaved and I went back to focusing on writing lesson plans.

Look at it Differently, or Where I Managed to Put the Bookshelf

I want to thank Elysabeth for her comment yesterday on my post Look at Things Differently where I described my vanilla dilemma of where to put my classroom bookshelf. I placed it too far into my math wall and so I was thinking all was lost. After I slept on it and drew a schematic I had an “aha.” I put it in the middle! (embarrassingly simple conclusion I admit). Below is a before and after. The point I was making was made, with a visual. Mind you, this was a very simple matter but it made my point in the post about all matters of classroom decor: look at it differently.

I published this “idiot’s” conclusion (the idiot being me) because I feel it makes my point solid: if you take the time to look at your predicament “differently” you are likely to find a solution that is simple, possible and often right under your nose.

Three Areas of Student Assessment – a modest proposal

three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nToday on my Facebook, I reposted (shared) this photo of Bruce Springsteen and his quote. One of my friends challenged me to share what I would do differently so I decided to blog three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1) At the parent conference, create assessment goals. Students all have different gifts and needs. If parents and teachers get together, the best goals can be made for the child. It would probably be impractical to have individual assessments for everyone. At the same time, I think if we tried doing this, a set of assessment “types” would come into focus. Teachers could make a set of open-minded assessments to help a child grow. Part of this assessment should be to test a student’s understanding of real life jobs as they exist now (not 50 years ago).

2) Make music and the arts a requirement in school. I agree charter schools can do a good job at focusing on the arts shouldn’t all kids get that exposure? Forget what other countries do on their tests, we are trailblazers. Only we decide what we want our kids to be exposed to.

3) Academic assessments must be there. Teachers should have full access to the material the kids will be tested on and testing should be. I thought the standardized testing of the CDE was good for the past 15 years but it shouldn’t be the sole assessment. At the same time, this aspect cannot be ignored.

Learning Objective

In EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson. It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words. Then I say it and have the class repeat it. You are establishing the goal of the lesson.

IAB_CL1_PX01642Series on EDI intro: Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI, is a set of teaching strategies assembled by Data Works, a research company in California.  I have been trained and certified as a trainer and have found it a great way to deliver effective lesson plans.  It consists of steps which you will find in each post in the series here.  I hope you benefit by the series.  Please leave a comment, let’s have a dialog.

In the teaching method EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson.  It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words.  Then I say it and have the class repeat it.  You are establishing the goal of the lesson.  This helps the students mentally prepare for the lesson.  Many times teachers do “forward questioning,” or, questioning without teaching.  Forward questioning is a big no no.  A clearly taught learning objective is the best weapon against it. Here are some teaching methods.

Even though EDI is the focus here, a learning objective is an excellent part of any lesson plan. You state what we will be doing and stay faithful to it through all stages of the lesson.  It’s like a target guiding what you do and what you assess in the end. Now, onto the second step of my favorite method of teaching.

The Best Behavioral Strategy is a Dynamite Lesson Plan

Reflecting on the past and future of Dynamite Lesson Plan, a teaching blog.

My vision of the: “Dynamite Lesson Plan” aka great Behavior and Classroom Management. I started this blog in early 2007 and it’s evolved to something I am quite proud of today. I named the blog after something my master “teacher-school” teacher told me after observing me the first time. My class was out of control and it was borderline embarassing. I asked him for strategies to keep their behavior under control and he said:

“The best classroom behavior management is a dynamite lesson plan.”

It’s been years since he told me that and it is still the most true thing I’ve ever been told about teaching.

People are drawn to passion and form like a moth to a lightbulb. If you tell a kid he has to learn math he might buy in. If you tell a kid that every chair in the world will fall apart if people don’t learn math, you’ll have buy in.

A dynamite lesson plan is a direction. It simply inspires a plan. After that, the effective teacher must get creative and use a method. I use EDI as my lesson template but there are other good ones. This blog has become a place where I explore ways to create dynamite lesson plans. I appreciate the input I have in the comments and I hope to get more teachers and students involved in what I do here. My hope is it will inspire teachers and empower students to be great and score high.

Here’s to a dynamite future as we continue to discover the parts of a dynamite lesson plan.

Classroom Design – Less is More

Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Walking in your classroom has to be, at the very minimum, possible. At best it should be easy. If you are tripping over desks to get to kids and/or unable to get from one side to the other, you aren’t doing it right. Organizing a classroom design to let you walk around unencumbered will yield results. Feng Shui and general aesthetic principles guide architects toward minimalism every day. Less in the room is more in that it yields creativity and relieves tension. Having open space in a class is becoming more and more challenging. With internet for classrooms taking up necessary computer space, we are hard-pressed to create that calming, freeing space we want. Still, the internet and other computer tools are doing much in education so we have to make a space for them.

Teachers are given a mix of school furniture each year and usually the items are minimal. However, one should consider how much extra clutter a room needs. Getting rid of the unneeded furniture in place of items that add to the learning environment can be an excellent decision. At the same time, moving something like a bookshelf can open worlds of wonder to a classroom. It is amazing how much I have seen change by changing the wall my bookshelf was on. This will of course vary teacher to teacher according to preference.

As we look to the future and consider the virtual classroom, the physical room environment should continue to be at the forefront. As hybrids continue to emerge, we may see that the classroom is not less important but more because kids are in it less. Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

3 Tips for Teacher Success When Starting Their Career

Once you accept the challenges of teaching, you can be a lifelong success and make a difference with your students. Here are some teaching tips on how to make that happen.


There is a lot you can do to be successful at teaching. Being great at what you do in the field of education has many roadblocks though.  Getting your teaching certificate is just the first challenge. But, once you accept the challenge, you can be successful and make a difference with your students. Again there is so much you can do but here are 3 simple teaching tips on how to make that happen.

At work we a have a single job to do but everyone knows there is so much more to work than that. For example: 1. Effective lessons are crucial and require careful planning, 2. Avoid getting overly involved with your colleagues personally (this is just my personal opinion but it has helped my success), and 3. Practice creating solutions to your teaching challenges.

Effective lessons are very important. You will find many helps on this blog alone. After that of course, a simple search on Google will yield many teacher tips on how to craft and deliver excellent lessons. Devote yourself to this. It is the cornerstone of an effective teacher.

It may seem healthy and productive to spend time after school talking to other teachers but I have found it of little value. In my case, and of course everyone has a different personality, I have found that a staff will expand, contract, and change in number. The faces will change but the challenge is the same: to teach effectively. Especially at the beginning of your career, extra-professional relationships at work can distract you. I have decided to keep colleague relationships, other than collaboration for planning lessons, to a minimum. I leave you to make your own conclusions here.


Finally, be an innovator! There was a psychological study done in the 70’s where a guy looked up in the middle of Central Park. He was looking at nothing but he never looked down. People would walk by and most looked up with him. The message here is to be an innovator or leader in what you do. Others may follow but that shouldn’t be your primary motive. Success is the lighthouse. Classroom and online teaching degrees are great careers but you have to get out there and do them! There are some great books on making a living in online teaching available. This is an example of real innovation. You need grand innovative habits to succeed in teaching.

In conclusion, everyone in their heart wants to be successful. Unfortunately there are a host of forces working all the time against us. I have given only three tips this post. These are three tips that are very important to teacher success. What do you think of them? Please join the conversation in the comments with other tips for teacher success.