Do your lesson plans pass the test?

Do your lesson plans pass the test?

In our first blog in this series, Pedagogy Surpasses Curriculum, we discuss that while a worthy tool, curriculum provides the WHAT should be taught while pedagogy provides the HOW and the WHEN of teaching. Pedagogy focuses on HOW we teach curriculum, HOW we relate the material to our students and HOW students find themselves in the standards. Pedagogy interprets HOW teachers use the curriculum and relate it to what is important to their students today and to their future goals. Pedagogy is HOW teachers deepen their students’ learning experiences so they want to be engaged in the lesson.

In short, we challenge school leaders to support their teachers to focus on “teaching for learning” versus implementing “teaching moves” described in many curriculums. As a tool, curriculum is important, but can never replace strong pedagogy with a goal of engaging 100% of students 100% of the time.  To support this notion, we propose that lesson planning, with an eye on pedagogy, will help to ensure this rigorous goal.

“Are my lesson plans passing the test?”

Are the lessons you are planning incorporating the components of high leverage pedagogical strategies that set the stage for rigor and learning for every student? How would you know if they were? Ask yourself, do your lessons include:

Daily learning targets?

Lesson plans need to address daily learning targets that are aligned with standards and include rigorous questioning. Too often we hear teachers say, “Well, we aren’t learning anything new today, we are just continuing with the same objective.” Although a standard can be carried through multiple lessons, teachers need to be cognizant of a lesson plan that requires students to learn something new – every day, with every lesson!

The gradual release model?

The gradual release model, written about extensively by Fisher and Frey, embraces the concept that students learn best when the cognitive load of responsibility is gradually shifted from the teacher as the expert to the student, who can become the expert.  When the cognitive responsibility starts with the teacher and strategically shifts towards the student doing the “heavy lifting” of thinking, processing, applying and problem-solving, students can learn at very rigorous levels. Strategies within a lesson plan need to explicitly and systematically shift the learning responsibility from the teacher to the student. This can and should be done daily through effective, high leverage strategies.

Rigorous instructional strategies?

Pedagogy and instructional strategies need to be rigorous so students are given the chance to think, apply and share content at high levels. Ask yourself: are my questions challenging students to take risks and connect their learning? Are the strategies allowing them opportunities to apply previously learned material in novel situations?

Rigor can be assessed through tools such as a Depth of Knowledge Wheel, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or by assessing a student’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) to ensure that questions, activities, and expectations are yielding high-level responses.

Opportunities for students to think deeply through questioning and inquiry opportunities?

Lesson plans must also include opportunities for students to think deeply about topics, answer high-level questions that are relevant to their lives and have multiple opportunities to inquire further about what they have learned. When lesson plans are embedded with strategies such as Name the Steps, Anchor Charts, and Everybody Writes, students have opportunities to engage in content in ways that are meaningful and rigorous.

Content that is engaging and relevant to students?

When students understand why they are learning something, how it impacts their lives and why it is important for them to know, they’re not only more engaged, but they are motivated to dive deeper into the content, often exceeding teachers’ expectations for performance. Students achieve at higher levels when they want to learn instead of because they “have to” learn. Why should students, in your city, at their age, care about what you are teaching them?

Opportunities for formative assessment, generating data-driven decision making about your next pedagogical moves?

Just like glancing at a GPS while driving to a place you have never been before, to ensure you’re on the right track, your lesson plans should include regular checks for understanding to ensure students are with you on their learning journey. If frequent check-ins don’t occur, you will likely get to the end of your lesson having unknowingly lost some of your students. Regular, quick formative assessments, such as 60-second check-ins, embedded within your lesson plans will allow you to “glance” at every student to ensure they are all on the learning journey with you. The data that you obtain from these checks can then allow you to differentiate your approach to certain students to ensure everyone is learning.

This powerful litmus test outlines the pedagogical components that should be considered and included for all lesson plans and allows teachers to self-assess if the elements of their lesson have the potential to reach every student at high levels.

“But this is A LOT to think about in every lesson!”

We know that being a teacher is challenging and to some, the goal of getting 100% of students engaged and learning 100% of the time can be overwhelming and sometimes seem impossible. Our work at CT3 is grounded in strong culture and relationship building strategies, but over the last several years we have considered the question: classroom management for what? In this quest, we have identified 20 research-based pedagogical strategies that we knew needed to be a part of a comprehensive lesson and provided the best leverage for every teacher’s lesson-building toolkit.

Each month on our blog we will explore some of our favorite pedagogical strategies that support the questions in this litmus test and reveal their elements that support great teaching, high levels of student engagement and high expectations for every student in your classroom. Stay tuned!


By Kristyn Klei Borrero, CT3’s CEO and Co-Founder and Carrie Lupoli, former special education teacher-turned-educator and nutrition coach

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Our suites of pedagogical strategies provide the strategic framework, and Real Time Teacher Coaching® supports school leaders and teachers at every step. Check out CT3 Education programs such as No-Nonsense Nurturer, Real Time Teacher Coaching, and Real Time Leadership Coaching to find out more about Professional Development for Teachers and Leaders, and building relationships with students and their families.
Category: Teaching