• Andrea Paulakovich

Square peg in a round hole


Square peg in a round hole. That is what I think about when I see students with technology in their hands and a teacher lecturing in the front of the room. As we morph our thinking about today's classroom, there are many teachers that say, "My direct instruction, lecture model works." Maybe that was true for past students, but the students of today and tomorrow are different. As digital natives, they have formed habits of learning via technology. The world we are preparing them for is different than the world we experienced. If we want students to be "college and career ready" we have to prepare them for a new environment. This new environment requires a major overhaul of our current lesson design and curriculum.


After reading a recent article in the New York Times about Switzerland, I started thinking about Kelly Gallagher. As a former English teacher for 13 years, Kelly Gallagher's ideas transformed my ability to teach reading and writing. How did he do that? He pushed the limits! He suggested ideas that went against everything I learned in college. One idea that I still carry over into mentoring educators is the idea that we all need good models to imitate. When I started placing models of excellent writing in front of my students, allowing them to imitate, their writing changed drastically. My last year as a middle school ELA teacher, I had several students publish books via NanoWrimo and another student the first freshmen to be accepted into the neighboring high schools Newspaper class. I don't believe I was the single contributing factor to their success, but I do believe Kelly Gallagher's idea of writing more, providing choice in reading, and imitating models, allowed my students the time and experience to improve.


You are probably asking, "What does this have to do with lesson design?" Everything! We need to look at excellent models, outside the box models, to imitate in regards to 21st century teaching. Why don't we send groups of teacher leaders to Switzerland to shadow teachers, programs, administrators, students? How could this time and money benefit our students? Just like my example about Kelly Gallagher...models, practice, and choice, allows people to grow and to reflect. If we truly want our teachers to change their thinking, we have to rethink the design of curriculum and effective lesson design. As I read a blog entry entitled "The 21st Century Lesson Plan," I was stuck on Murray's idea that we need "...radical change in teacher lesson plans."


Thanks to Jacqui Murray, here are 17 concepts we should consider when lesson planning:


1. Students need to learn overarching concepts; how to speak in a group, how to listen effectively, how to think critically, how to solve problems.

2. The learning platform needs to be neutral. "For example, when teaching spreadsheets, make the software or online tools a vehicle for practical critical thinking, data analysis, and evidence based learning, not for learning one brand or software or a particular spreadsheet tool."

3. The purpose needs to be about understanding not knowing.

4. Transfer of knowledge from one class to the next is critical.

5. Collaboration: "The definition of project has morphed from 'shiny, perfect student work' to 'review, edit, rewrite, and submit.'" Grade students on all four steps, not just one. Provide students a place to share their thinking with other students, teachers, parents, etc.... Their audience shouldn't just be the teacher. Think Blogs, student created websites, online portfolios, Google Docs, etc....

6. Self-Help Methods: You provide online videos, taped class sessions, class website, downloadable materials, and you expect students to access and use.

7. Teachers are transparent with parents. You provide updates via blogs, a class website, weekly newsletters, or a fun "What happened in our class this week in 60 seconds."

8. Failure is a learning tool: "Assessments aren't about getting everything right but about making progress toward the goal of preparing for their future.

9. Differentiation is the norm: You provide different avenues for students to show they understand the essential questions or big ideas.

10. The textbook is a resource: You provide a variety of materials (books, websites, articles, Skype chats, poems, photos, speakers) and students use habits of mind to reach a conclusion or decide on the right answer.

11. Lessons change daily: You may map out your ideas but the lessons will change due to - interests, needs, formative assessments, but always stay true to the essential question or big idea.

12. Assessment: There are different ways for students to show they understand. Does a test/quiz truly show a student's understanding or does it just show who can read and then regurgitate information? I am working on my second Master's Degree, and I cannot score a 100% on a test no matter how hard I study. However, I am taking two other classes that allow me to show my understanding through writing or a project, and I have scored 100% each and every time. Why is that? I am allowed to show that I understand the material in a different way.

13. Vocabulary: This should not be taught in isolation. It should be routine that students are decoding worlds they don't understand. Online dictionaries, context clues, and prefixes/roots/suffixes, should be taught across the board.

14. Problem Solving: This should be the norm. Students should be expected to problem solve before asking a teacher for help. I once worked with a colleague who used the "3 Before Me Strategy." She spent the first few weeks of the school year modeling for students her expectations. She expected students to explore three ways, or conference with three classmates, before they were allowed to ask her.

15. Digital Citizenship: Each and every teacher models and reinforces this skill each and every day. I love her analogy to students understanding how to "survive in their neighborhood" being the same concept we need to teach students about surviving in the "digital neighborhood."

16. Play is the new teaching: "Use the power of games to draw students into learning and encourage them to build on their own interests."


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