The hardest thing about lesson planning is the blank page.
And the hardest thing about starting class: when students enter the room, unless you make it so, your classroom is a blank page. Sure, you have posters on the wall, and you’re midway through a unit.
But unless your posters and unit are as interesting as whatever the students were talking and thinking about in the hallway on the way to class (and let’s face it, to most students, it’s not), the students walk in the room with their own agenda. Their agenda is: try not to do anything.
The good news is that most students, being social beings, will step into line as class begins, even if you’re not playing your A game. The better news is that if you’ve set up class effectively, the span of time between “blank page” and “being productive” can be shortened.
How do you get students to get into gear? How do you reduce the behaviors that make it hard to start class? How do you get students thinking, quiet, and productive — reviewing the themes of the class —while you take attendance? How do you organize your lesson planning workflow so you never forget to include essential components?
The answer is the same for all these: lesson plan with a template, and make the lesson plan available to students upon entering class.
There are low-tech and hi-tech ways to do this; allow me to share a few, and their pros and cons.
Hi-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Google Calendar
By far, my favorite way to present the days work, including the vital “first thing work” that gets students quiet and engaged for 5-10 minutes is a shared Google Calendar. While many schools have a Learning Management System that allows teachers to post their lesson plan for the day, I often find that these LMS calendars similar to, well, the free email that comes with your Cable Internet – you know: lmaluddite@Glopast.com. It works. But the tool doesn’t get updated or improved or work well across the most common devices like Google Calendar does.
I begin the year, during the first week of orientation, teaching students how to bookmark the shared class Google Calendar from a laptop, and even a smartphone/tablet.
Each day, as students enter the room, they open their tablets, phones, or laptops and see the entire day’s lesson plan. It always begins with First Thing Work, and ends with Homework and students I need to meet with. For a detailed description of the various elements built into each day’s template, I invite you to check out A Template For Change – And Workflow.
- Unlike some other class calendars, a student can open the class Google Calendar integrated with their own Google Calendar. As a result, if they have already begun using Google Calendar for their own lives, they can easily keep track of classes they missed and the lesson plan, homework, and announcements for that day – on the same calendar they check which day they have Disney Musical Club, their Jai Alai tournament, and their family trip to Walla Walla.
- If you make a mistake that needs correcting in class – the link to an assignment is broken, say, or you decide you want to change the homework assignment — once you change it in the Google Calendar, it’s changed for everyone, instantly.
- You have the same access to the class calendar from excellent smartphone apps that you do from your work laptop. This means you can COMPOSE YOUR LESSON PLAN ON GOOGLE CALENDAR! I suggest you combine the calendar with a Template – to keep your thinking organized. For more on lesson planning with Templates, I invite you to read: How Not To Cook From Scratch.
- Referencing how you did something last year: I used to use Word for lesson planning, and by the end of the year, I had dozens and dozens of files – one for each day. I could never find anything. Now, when I want to see what I did last year, I can browse the classes on the calendar – or search for a word or phrase I know I used in my lesson planning.
- Fast and Portable Lesson Plan Fixing and Peeking: You’re in class, moving around the students, keeping an eye on the playing field. Are you going to bring your laptop with you? No. What do you do when you need to check what’s next? You look at your smartphone, where the same Google Calendar is ready for you to look at. Or, on the way to class, you can adjust a prompt, fix a page number, or jot a note under: assignments. From your smartphone! While walking!
Students need regular access to a device: school provided or “BYOD.”
Low-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Overhead Projector
Ah, the lowly overhead projector. It’s actually not so lowly. It has major benefits over the whiteboard (the other place you might write a Low-Tech lesson plan)
Mainly: with a teeny bit of planning and the flick of a switch, your lesson plan is ready. You can write your plans in advance, file them in a filing system, and refer to them as needed.
Besides being low tech and inexpensive, it’s easier to browse your lesson plans written this way, just as it’s easier to browse through a book than to click and click and click.
Rewarding students for checking the calendar: how do you reward students for coming to class, checking the calendar, and getting to work? ClassDojo! The first three students quietly working get a badge! The last two also get a badge!