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Instructional Planning for Effective Teaching

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Cultivate meaningful learning schoolwide. Taking a practical approach to instructional planning, the authors outline research-based planning tools and illustrate how teachers, leaders, and administrators can use these tools in everyday practice. Discover powerful strategies and guidelines for developing quality lessons, setting learning objectives, planning differentiated instruction, and designing technology-integrated learning to effectively teach and challenge every student.

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12 Chapters

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Chapter 1 Tactical Planning for Building Better Unit and Lesson Plans

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If strategic planning involves instructional planning for broader long-term learning goals, then tactical planning refers to using specific resources to achieve short-term subgoals that support the defined mission, often resulting in unit plans or lesson plans. Tactical planning considers specific issues that might impact the pace of student learning and growth. In general terms, think of tactical and strategic planning as achieving goals within certain time periods for planning or preparation.

•Tactical planning = short-term goals

•Strategic planning = long-term goals

Tactical planning typically emphasizes stability and reliable, trustworthy techniques; it focuses on immediate needs and improving what currently exists. It drives the instructional engine.

Courses are usually delivered through a sequence of manageable instructional units that accomplish discrete segments of the year’s work. Each unit is organized around a specific theme or concept or a cluster of related themes or concepts. An instructional unit consists of a series of learning activities and experiences congruent with the intended learning goals and objectives. The unit plan unifies goals, objectives, activities, and evaluation (Moore, 2005).

 

Chapter 2 Setting Learning Objectives

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Learning objectives are statements that describe what students are expected to achieve as a result of instruction. The concept of objectives was first used during World War II as a way to make teaching and learning more efficient. In the late 1950s and 1960s, this idea was applied to public schools (Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, n.d.). In 1962, with the publication of Robert Mager’s (1997) landmark work Preparing Instructional Objectives, a broad-based movement to use learning objectives in schools began. Generally, the value of identifying and describing learning objectives has long been supported. Specifically, learning objectives have been described as possessing the following key functions (Duchastel & Merrill, 1973; Instructional Assessment Resources, 2011): direction for teaching, facilitation of learning, and guidance in evaluation.

Learning Objectives:

•Can help teachers determine appropriate instructional strategies and activities. They can be used for pretesting, redirecting remedial work of those who lack the prerequisites, and redirecting advanced work for those who already have acquired the objectives.

 

Chapter 3 Organizing Learning Activities

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The best teachers never walk into the classroom with a blank slate. Indeed, organization is a hallmark of good teaching. Fluidity, flexibility, and teachable moments are all important. But without structure and organization, there is no instructional plan. As early as 1976, Hartley and Davies stated:

The sequencing and arrangement of subject material appears to influence not only what students learn, but also their attitudes towards the usefulness and importance of what has to be achieved. For this reason, any procedure which makes this arrangement or organization more obvious and striking is likely to facilitate the learning of meaningful material. Nowhere is this more important than in the preliminary phases of teaching and instruction. (p. 239)

As suggested in this quote, organizing learning activities is an essential aspect of effective instructional planning. When teachers design learning activities, they must consider how to orchestrate the actions in their classrooms to support the strategies they have chosen. Consequently, the quality of learning—even the opportunity to learn—depends on substantial prearranging and preparing of materials, planning for activity structure, and skillful managing of workflow (LePage, Darling-Hammond, & Akar, 2005). In fact, when teachers consider the organizational aspects of their lessons, the instruction is more effective and efficient.

 

Chapter 4 Selecting Meaningful and Purposeful Learning Materials

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Some teachers might mistakenly believe that learning is a mechanical process—one in which information is transferred from textbooks to students, and students acquire knowledge and skills through listening, reading, and memorization. The reality is that teaching and learning are far more complex. The way learners interact with new information is influenced by their experiences, prior knowledge, and beliefs, and they often fail to remember, understand, and apply new information that has no connection or context for acquiring meaning (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, & Bransford, 2005).

Effective teachers understand that instructional planning must be tied to the core curricula and teachers’ instructional strategies, not dictated by materials and equipment. Instructional materials, including textbooks, serve a supportive rather than central role in the connection between curriculum and instruction. Effective teaching is much more than acting out scripts written by textbook and test publishers. Textbooks—that is, good textbooks—can serve as an indispensable resource to teachers; however, allowing textbooks to dominate instructional planning is unlikely to meet today’s educational demands for real-world critical thinking, problem solving, skill building, and inquiry. Furthermore, many contemporary topics are too specific and others are too new to be included in textbooks (Sharma & Elbow, 2000).

 

Chapter 5 Using Student Learning Data for Planning

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Planning is preparation for action. Without prior thinking and planning, ongoing review, adjusting as plans unfold in practice, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, and making changes based on those reflections, teachers seldom improve practice. Thus, effective teachers must consider a variety of factors when planning instruction. One of the key issues to consider is how to use student assessment data to help determine what to teach and to whom. Student learning data contribute to teachers’ decisions in planning lessons, grouping students for instruction, and diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of individual students (Young & Kim, 2010). In addition, student data allow teachers to know what and how well their students have learned.

The feasibility of a particular lesson largely depends on content goals and mandated objectives, time, material resources, and especially, students’ prior performance. Many of these factors constrain teachers in ways that are beyond their immediate control. For example, there is a prescribed, fixed amount of time each day in which formal instruction may occur. Typically, hours of the day are chunked into units dedicated to the study of certain subjects or disciplines as determined by a legislative body, school board, or school administrator. This means that if teachers are to maximize student learning, they must operate within these constraints and be as efficient as possible; this is where using student learning data comes to bear.

 

Chapter 6 Designing Engaging Opening and Closing Activities

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Planning the opening and closing activities for lessons reminds teachers to think about the priorities of the lesson and how they can best engage all students. Opening and closing activities are opportunities for students to attach personal meaning and relevance to what they learn. These activities can help structure learning and create what psychologists call the primacy-recency effect; that is, during a lesson, learners remember best that which comes first and that which comes last. They remember least that which comes just past the middle (Sousa, 2011). Therefore, the amount of information that students are likely to retain depends on what is presented during the lesson and when. Figure 6.1 shows how the primacy-recency effect influences retention during a forty-minute lesson (Sousa, 2011). The first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of a lesson are the optimal times for learning.

Figure 6.1: Primacy-recency effect.

The primacy-recency effect has important implications for instructional planning and design. It is common for teachers to introduce a lesson objective and then move on to taking attendance, distributing the day’s homework, collecting the previous day’s homework, and making announcements. By the time new learning finally rolls around, more than ten minutes have lapsed, and students are already beyond optimal learning time. At the end of a lesson, some teachers allow students to do anything they want as long as they keep quiet and stay busy, thus, wasting a learning opportunity. Designing engaging opening and closing activities for instruction provides opportunities for learning as productively and effectively as possible.

 

Chapter 7 Strategic Planning for Teachers

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In his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey (1989) emphasizes starting “with the end in mind” (p. 95). In fact, he claims that effective leaders always play out an event twice—once in their heads and then again in reality. This concept of focusing on the big picture—starting with the end in mind—applies equally well to effective teachers. In fact, evidence suggests that effective teachers start the academic year by considering where their students are and where they need to be by the end of the term or year. Effective teachers are strategic planners.

Teaching is a complex activity that involves careful preparation and planning, for both short-term and long-term learning purposes. Misulis (1997) states that “regardless of the teaching model and methods used, effective instruction begins with careful, thorough, and organized planning on the part of the teacher” (p. 45). Like all other design professionals, such as architects, teachers must perform within the constraints of standards and with limited time and other resources.

 

Chapter 8 Planning Differentiated Instruction for Gifted and High-Ability Learners

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In order for their learning needs to be addressed and their unique talents to flourish, gifted and high-ability students must have differentiated learning experiences appropriate to their individual characteristics, needs, abilities, and interests. Gifted and high-ability learners need consistent opportunities to learn at their challenge level, just as all students do. And just like students with special needs in inclusion classrooms, these highly capable students also have exceptional learning needs and should receive modified versions of learning opportunities. Developing curriculum and instructional strategies that are sufficiently rigorous, challenging, and coherent can be a challenging task, but it is doable—and necessary (Moore, 2005).

Planning differentiated instruction for gifted and high-ability learners must take into account these students’ unique needs and abilities, content that must be mastered, and effective instructional strategies. Effective teachers of high-ability learners use a variety of methods, such as acceleration, enrichment, content modification, or curriculum compacting, in order to provide enriching, differentiated activities that foster students’ academic growth (Stronge, 2007). But how are teachers to know what to use and when? While planning for differentiation may require greater effort and insight, it is, nonetheless, essential. If we are to match learning opportunities with learning needs for these students, then it is incumbent that we plan appropriately; otherwise, we will continue to miss the mark.

 

Chapter 9 Planning Differentiated Instruction for Struggling Learners

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No two students learn in exactly the same way or at the same pace. And, since students learn at different rates and in different ways for different reasons, effective teachers plan for both academic enrichment and remediation opportunities for their students. For students who may lack the prerequisite knowledge or skills to fully benefit from classroom instruction, the teacher must provide time for them to learn the foundational material on which to build new learning and, then, extend that learning to maximize opportunities for gaining new skills (Stronge, 2007).

Unfortunately, attempts to provide remedial and supplemental instruction to students at risk of school failure have not been very successful, usually because remedial instruction pays too much attention to the deficits of low-achieving students and too little attention to making instruction meaningful (Good & Brophy, 2007). This problem can best be rectified by, first, acknowledging the learning needs of struggling students and, then, focusing on positive solutions to help them succeed. Planning differentiated instruction for struggling learners is based on understanding the characteristics of low-achieving students and providing recommendations for engineering instruction that can reduce students’ frustrations and stimulate their interest and success.

 

Chapter 10 Planning for Cross-Disciplinary Instruction

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Cross-disciplinary instruction is a valuable addition to any teacher’s instructional repertoire. The practice of making connections across subject areas is an effective way to engage students in challenging, integrative, and exploratory learning around personal and social concerns that appeal to them. The integration of disciplines can prompt students to learn to think critically and develop a common core of knowledge necessary for success in the 21st century. Given the value and validity of this instructional strategy, a basic question remains: How do teachers plan for quality cross-disciplinary learning experiences?

Knowing how much additional work is required to design and implement cross-disciplinary instruction, is it worth the effort? In answer, numerous compelling reasons should prompt teachers to consider adding cross-disciplinary instruction to their teaching strategies (Alrøe & Noe, 2014; Case, 1991; Jacobs, 1989).

•The problems and situations that students encounter in real-world settings do not completely organize themselves according to fragmented disciplines or traditional school subjects. Many phenomena in real life cannot be adequately understood solely from one disciplinary perspective. Cross-disciplinary instruction provides real-world applications, hence encouraging transfer of learning.

 

Chapter 11 Planning for Technology-Integrated Learning

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Since the 1980s, we have witnessed the harnessing of instruction to technology. According to Lee Shulman (1986), teachers’ expertise in teaching is formulated from the integration of content knowledge with pedagogical knowledge, and this integration is called pedagogical content knowledge. Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler (2006) add technological knowledge to this concept and propose technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) to emphasize teachers’ expertise in making connections across three domains when integrating technology. Consequently, in dialogues about instruction, there is increasing emphasis on teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge and an integration of all three key components—technology, pedagogy, and content.

Information literacy and information technology skills are essential for students to effectively function in a 21st century society. Furthermore, it is becoming imperative to integrate teaching information literacy and technology skills into regular curriculum (Chu, Chow, & Tse, 2011). Thus, designing technology-integrated learning is becoming an essential component of teacher effectiveness.

 

Chapter 12 Team Planning

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For too long, teaching was practiced in isolation. The teacher would enter the classroom, shut the door, and teach. Other than incidental interactions with colleagues—for example, before and after school, during lunch, and in the occasional meeting—teachers were almost independent agents. Fortunately, this paradigm of isolation has begun to give way to more collaborative and shared teaching practices.

An essential aspect of collaborative work for teachers is team planning. Instruction is not only the time teachers spend interacting with students in the classroom; it is also the time spent away from students engaging in planning activities such as learning, collaborative inquiry, communicating, and problem solving. Common planning should be structured, ongoing, sustained, and supported. We’ve known for a long time that the lack of opportunity to discuss plans with others prevents teachers from examining their practice and deliberating about issues to improve teaching and learning (McCutcheon, 1980). Team planning allows teachers to collaboratively examine important issues and develop a collective approach to instruction (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Additionally, teachers who collaborate share resources and decision-making responsibilities; they also hold joint expectations for achieving common goals (Carter, Prater, Jackson, & Marchant, 2009; Cook & Faulkner, 2010).

 

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