It’s Elementary! – Planning

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Elementary, Middle School | No Comments

Submitted by

 Margaret Williams
Teaching and Learning Specialist for Intermediate Mathematics
Anoka-Hennepin ISD 11

Last month we looked at what constitutes a rich task.  How can we open up the tasks in our curriculum to be more engaging for all our learners?  We have to give ourselves permission to find our own entry points for this process.  It’s better to start and realize we will make mistakes than wait for the perfect opportunity that may never come.

Planning is everything! The better the planning, the better the experience.

Who are the learners?  Where are they in their learning?  What are their life experiences?  What are their interests?  And, of course, what is your learning target?  If we don’t know where we are going, how will we know when we get there?  How will we know how to scaffold and challenge our learners?

Planning includes selecting a rich and appropriate task AND anticipating how our students will respond to the task. My friend, Jacki, has said, “Surprise is the enemy of competence.” What if we have a sense of how our kids will react and where points of confusion may be before we teach the lesson?  What if we have thought of questions that will extend and deepen the thinking of those kids that seem to figure it out after a couple of minutes?

Some very knowledgeable people say that the planning phase is the most important part of the lesson.  Yet, how many of us end up glancing at the teacher guide for a minute or two before the kids walk in the door.  The lesson ends up going alright (or not) and we move on.

What would happen if we sat down and really looked at what we are teaching?  Can we open up some piece of the lesson to uncover a rich task?  What would happen if we worked out the task as our students might?  Will it be interesting to them?  Will they be challenged?  What questions might we pose to keep the thinking going?

We also want to really think ahead of time as to the 2 or 3 strategies or examples we want to be made public during the sharing time.  Are there a couple of problem solving strategies we want to have conversations around?  Are there common misconceptions that may come out?  Then you may want to decide if you are going to the students share their own work or are you going to show the work without names attached.  My friend, Nathan, does that and I’ve tried it in grades as young as kindergarten.  It works pretty well, as the kids tend to focus on understanding the strategy and not who wrote it.

An important piece to plan ahead of time is:  How are you going to support students in connecting the strategies that are shared?  Sharing strategies should not be Show and Tell.  It should be an opportunity to see the connectedness of ideas.  Drawing connections can be challenging when trying to determine the “what” and “how” on the spot.  Working this out during the planning phase of our lessons ensures that this vital conversation happens.

There are no easy answers.  There is no “one way” to roll this out.  Teaching is complicated.  Is it would be worth it to spend the time contemplating how the story of the day’s lesson will flow?  I’d like to challenge you to give it a shot. If you haven’t already read 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions by Peg Smith and Mary Kay Stein, I highly recommend it.

We’ll continue this conversation next month.

Hope to see you in Duluth!

Margaret Williams

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