Much has been written about the importance of planning your lessons to ensure that you focus on important content, or what Wiggins and McTighe have referred to as “enduring understanding.” Understanding by Design, the Thinking Classroom, or Curriculum Mapping are useful tools that many are using in schools. Another helpful tool is a manual I created for Content Planning, which you can download for free at the Big Four Ning.
Careful planning, or effective curriculum development, is of course a part of being prepared to teach. While any class has the potential for surprises, moments of creative innovation, discovery, or the simple joy of muddling through, an effective class also has a clear plan, perhaps laid out in guiding questions and a learning map. Again, see the Content Planning guide for more on this.
The plan is just the notes on the page, not the music. Without a plan, there’s no music. But too much emphasis on the plan can get in the way of authentically responding to the teachable moment. If we are more concerned about covering the material than we are about students learning, we may be letting our kids down.
One way to ensure that what matters most actually happens in your class is to identify the core idea for each lesson. This is a simple idea: The core is the main thing you want to occur in your class. Not the content to be learned, but the experience, memory, or emotion you want to create for your students in a given lesson. The core may be expressed as a single word, a few words, or a sentence. Regardless of how it is stated, the core expresses your goal for each day with each group of students.
In most cases, the core captures something highly positive that you hope will happen in class. Thus, the core might capture something profound, energizing, or inspirational. Examples of a core include:
• love of learning
• inspired to imagine a possible self
• touched by the beauty of the poem
• respect for each other, themselves, the world
• metaphor is a different way talking
• science is amazing
Often an expression of the core of a lesson begins with the statement: “I want my students to …” For example, I want my students to …
• know that words are power
• leave today’s class believing they can draw and excited about their chance to do so
• experience the mutually humanizing power of dialogue
• know that there are many ways to solve a problem
• feel empathy for someone who is different from them
• know that I care about them
One final idea related to core: Write each core statement on an index card along with the date and hour or class for which you wrote the core idea if you wrote more than one each day. Then, from time to time, look back and review all of your statements to see what your focus has been. Usually, this experience is remarkably affirming, but sometimes it reminds us, like watching footage of ourselves teaching, that we need to make adjustments. Either way, focusing on the core, and reminding yourself of the core, will benefit you and your students.