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Thursday / May 26

One Teaching Habit That Will Save You Time, Increase Your Impact, and Buy Back a Bit of Your Summer

Spring has sprung! Teachers and students alike are looking forward to the last few months of school. On the horizon for students, there is testing, final projects, and a host of review activities. For teachers, there is still more lesson planning to do. By the time teachers reach this time of year, they have planned upwards of 130 lessons. It’s expected that some were surprisingly great while others needed to be workshopped on the spot.

It’s also expected that teachers won’t remember all the adjustments made to their lessons once time has passed. Veteran teachers may have an advantage because they have taught some of these lessons for years and can easily depend on their go-to moves the next time.

For beginning teachers who have only taught their lessons once or twice, or veteran teachers piloting new lessons, there is one simple habit you can develop that will save you time and increase your impact down the road. Simple reflection. Taking the time to reflect on your lessons when they’re fresh will help you:

  • figure out what works for your teaching style and your students;
  • make small tweaks to future lesson plans based on what was successful; and
  • grow your stock of successful lessons.

How do I reflect on a lesson? What am I looking for?

With as little as six minutes a day, or 30 minutes a week, reflection can have a big impact on your teaching. try adding a “sticky note” to the front page where you answer a few short questions, such as any of the following.

  • What worked and what didn’t for this lesson?
    • Grouping: individual, pair, triad?
    • Timing: was the class period long enough to complete the lesson plan?
    • Pacing: Did transitions in the lesson work for students or was I moving too quickly or too slowly?
  • How well did I connect to students’ prior knowledge?
  • Which discussion prompts helped students share their thinking?
  • What mistakes did students make? Did I anticipate these mistakes in my lesson plan?
  • Did students connect to the examples I used?
  • Did students share their own examples? If so, did their examples support deeper understanding for their peers?
  • Were students’ questions about how to complete the assignment or how to make sense of the content?
  • Did we meet the learning goal?

What is most important  is that you quickly record your professional perceptions of the lesson without taking too much time for deliberation. This is your gut check on what you noticed about students’ reactions, understanding, and questions. If you are teaching the same lesson for multiple classes a day, you will want to do this on each class because different groups of students may engage differently with the same lesson.

How do I decide what was successful, what wasn’t, and how do I revise for the future?

Once you have completed your quick reflections, you  begin to see what is and isn’t working for each class. The most important measure of a successful lesson is whether you were able to meet your learning goal, which you can assess with these questions:

  • Did students provide evidence of an understanding of the content?
    • Were there various ways students did this?
    • Were students supported in making connections between their solutions and solution strategies?
    • Did I anticipate the solutions and solution strategies students used?

If you finished a lesson and were not sure what students understood, including hinge questions or whiteboard responses to your lesson can be useful. These forms of formative assessment can be used to take a snapshot of student learning, and inform your decisions about instruction (Dillon et al, 2022). Over time, seeing more solutions and solution strategies can help you anticipate what students will do during lesson planning (Smith, Steele, Sherin, 2020).

The second way you can evaluate a lesson’s success is determining how much agency students demonstrated. Ask yourself:

  • Did students take initiative to ask for what they need to learn better?
    • Did they ask to work with others?
    • Did they offer examples if yours were unclear or disconnected for their cultures or communities?
    • Did they ask for more time when working or let you know it was ok to move on?
    • Did they ask each other questions to support their own reasoning during lessons or did they direct all questions to you?

If there were very few instances where students volunteered their ideas about what might make the lesson run more smoothly or made moves to support each other’s learning, adding some quick responses during class can give you feedback about how the class is working for students. This strategy can support students in gaining comfort with sharing their preferences during lessons. You may want to ask about how well they understand the purpose of the task, whether they understand the lesson examples, or if they would like to work in small groups. With their hands next to their chests, have students signal thumbs up for “I understand this,” or “yes,” flat hand for “I have a question” , “I am unsure about this,” or “maybe,” and thumbs down for “I do not understand this,” or “no.” Anonymity is an important part of this, so that students are not afraid to express how they truly feel. The hope is that over time students feel more able to share ideas with you during instruction.

In the future, how can I ensure students are always clear on what they are expected to do?

Looking back at the questions students asked can help you determine whether the task was too difficult to access because of the amount of text, level of complication, or inaccessibility of the context of the task.

If you find that a task you used was hard for students  to engage in because of the design, consider adding scaffolds to develop strengths in the most challenging areas. You can also simplify your tasks so that students spend the most time reasoning about the content and important contexts. Finally, you can seek outside perspectives to improve your tasks in myriad ways.

To do this, you can:

  • find time to talk to a colleague or coach at your school, in your district, or online about your lesson to learn how they’ve taught this content in the past.
  • access teacher networks on social media
  • search the internet to find teachers to engage with directly for more perspectives on your work.

Engaging in this reflective practice can improve your teaching of these topics during the following years.  A lot of teachers spend time over summer break doing this reflection work, which is when they should relax, recharge, and engage in professional development or passion projects. I hope that just 6 minutes a day of reflection now can buy back some of that time from summer and help improve your teaching and your students’ learning outcomes. Happy Working!


References:

Dillon, F. L., Perry, A. D., Cheng, A., & Outzs, J. (2022). Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Secondary Math: Five to Thrive [series]. Corwin Press.

Smith, M. S., Steele, M. D., & Sherin, M. G. (2020). The 5 practices in practice: Successfully orchestrating mathematics discussions in your high school classroom. Corwin.

 

Written by

Ayanna D. Perry, PhD, is an associate director for the Teaching Fellows Program at the Knowles Teacher Initiative. There, she and her team of experienced educators coach and facilitate professional development for secondary mathematics and science teachers across the nation.  She is a presenter and the author of Five to Thrive – Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Secondary Math.

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