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NEA News

What’s Changed in Lesson Planning

Why it’s important that your lesson plans evolve along with the world.

The world has changed. So should your lessons. 

Technology and the connected world put a fork in the old model of teaching: instructor in front of the class, sage on the stage, students madly taking notes, textbooks opened, homework as worksheets, and tests regurgitating facts.

Did I miss anything?

This model is outdated not because it didn’t work (many statistics show students ranked higher on global testing years ago than they do now), but because the world changed. Our classrooms are more diverse.

Students are digital natives, in the habit of learning via technology. The ‘college or career’ students are preparing for isn’t that of their mothers.

What is slow to adjust is the venerable lesson plan. When I first wrote these teaching maps, they concentrated on aligning with standards and ticking off required skills. Now, with a clear-eyed focus on where students need to be before graduation, they must build on the habits of mind that allow success not only in school but life.

Here are 16 concepts you may not think about—but should—as you prepare lesson plans:

  1. About a third of high school graduates go to work rather than college so they must be prepared for what they’ll face in the job market. This includes knowing how to speak and listen to a group, how to think independently, and how to solve problems. Lesson plans must reflect those skills.
  2. Lesson plans must be platform-neutral, not a cheerleader for the school’s favorite tool. For example, spreadsheets should teach critical thinking and data analysis, not Excel or Sheets. What students use at school may not be what their future employer requires.
  3. Conflate ‘knowing’ with ‘understanding’. Students must understand why their project is better delivered with a slideshow than word processing.
  4. Transfer of knowledge is key. What students learn must be applicable to other classes—and life. For example, vocabulary isn’t a list of words to be memorized. It’s knowing how to decode them using affixes, roots, and context.
  5. Collaboration and sharing is treated as a learned skill.
  6. Real life allows for do-overs. School should respect the process of review, edit, rewrite, and resubmit by allowing it to happen.
  7. Student projects are shared with all, not just the teacher. The entire community of learners can benefit from each student’s work.
  8. Self-help is expected, such as using online refer- ences and how-to videos. These are available 24/7, empowering students to work at their own pace, to their own rhythm.
  9. Teachers are transparent with all stakeholders. Here, I’m thinking of parents. Let them know what’s going on in class. Welcome their questions and visits. Respond to their varied time constraints and knowledge levels.
  10. Failure is a learning tool. Assessments aren’t about finding perfection. In life, failure happens. Those who thrive know how to recover from failure and continue.
  11. Differentiation is the norm. Different methods of showing knowledge are welcomed as long as students stick with the lesson’s Big Idea.
  12. The textbook is a resource, supplemented by a panoply of books, online sites, experts, virtual chats, and anything else that supports the topic.
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.