Saturday, January 22, 2011

How do you plan for everyone?

I'm thinking today about how to prepare lessons for young children. I am well aware that my teaching plan is dependent on the engagement of my class - if they aren't that into it, than I need to change it up or throw it away. This is the daily juggle of teachers...and it has led me to today's blog reflection:

how to lesson plan for everyone? how do you engage them all?

I love the whole idea of "backward design" wherein you first think about what is essential that children know and then you back up and figure out how you might best lead them to this. For example, I want children to realize :

- they can create solutions to problems;
- they may fail first, but that they can always try, try again; and
- every story has a problem hidden in it.

I also want them to simply engage in exploring found materials, discovering new ways of looking at and working with ordinary things.

When you start to plan for these "big ideas," you realize what flexibility you actually have as a preschool teacher - there is no "one way" to accomplish these. My engineering lessons have proven to be a flexible and engaging way for children to discover answers to these essential questions. Many children love to build things - and I think it is particularly inviting when you have the flexibility to build things in your own way, by your own design. It is no small thing that I, too, love to build things, therefore this type of curriculum is near and dear to my heart and the children pick up on my enthusiasm. We have a lot of fun together, exploring in this way.

At the end of each engineering effort, when parents and caregivers come in to pick up their children, I routinely hand them an interesting object created from recyclables and a brief description of today's engineering problem:

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? The storybook problem we explored
HOW SHOULD THE PROBLEM BE SOLVED? A brief description of what we will try to create
TEST: A brief description of how we tested the device
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROJECT: (The child's own words go here...)

This project description is just a hint of the fun we had (and hopefully a great catalyst for additional conversation between parent and child). However, my "behind-the-scenes" lesson planning has never been this straightforward. Certainly the lesson description is the "heart" of it...but it is never all I do.

The way that I lesson plan reminds me a great deal of the way my sons were taught to write in elementary school in the 1990s -

Come up with your main idea and write down every imaginable thought related to it, creating a web of ideas

[This is completely different from how I was taught writing when I was in elementary school (late 1960s): tell them what you are going to say, say it, tell them what you said.]

Once I come up with my primary activity or idea - the essential questions I want to pursue, the "heart" of my lesson - my thoughts and planning go in so many different directions:

I try to make sure that I have thought of ways to get the children excited about the topic through different intelligences -

Yes, we'll be building with cardboard, scissors, and tape, but what might we sing or chant?

Is there a movement/dance or two that I could do?

Do I have other books, to buttress the theme? Especially, "real" engineering books for those who want to go deeper?

Is there opportunity for children to work a long time on their creativity? How about a chance for them to work together?

What about the children who aren't so interested - do I have a way to reel them in? Do I have any games or other materials elsewhere in the room, to go with the theme?

Will I have a good adult-child ratio for this project, to help/guide children in various ways? What exactly will the adults be doing?

I also think about a "parent piece" - some sort of takeaway for the families. I always try to document what their child has done and, ideally, offer ideas for extending the exploration at home.

I find that when I spend time "webbing" all these questions, thinking through the possibilities, I am able to be more present with children and less likely to be thrown off by the surprises that always crop up.

Obviously, my lesson planning is not very efficient. With time and practice, I have had to write down less, but in some ways I "run around" more - gathering all sorts of materials and extras to make the plan work for everyone. Are all preschool teachers juggling like this? Is it possible that there are teachers who simply plan one project in detail from start to finish and that is that? How do they do it? Are the lessons successful? Please, share these techniques with me!

(To think, I haven't even mentioned how one reflects on how the lesson went, considers what to keep or change, and then organizes all these lesson ideas to have them at the ready through the! There's a topic not easily resolved in a blog....)

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