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Key Factors in Instructional Planning

Instructor: Mary May
This lesson will focus on the most important elements to include when planning instruction so that it teaches the standards you need to teach while helping elementary school (middle childhood) students stay engaged and learn.

Why is Lesson Planning Important?

My first year of teaching was a time of growth and change. I met and learned to love children from all different walks of life and grew both as a teacher and a person. I firmly believe that I learned more than my students did that year. But truth be told, during my first year teaching I was not effective. I will always remember my first year teaching fondly, but it was also both work intensive and discouraging. I spent hours upon hours planning fun, engaging lessons but my students continuously performed worse than the students my peers instructed. If I could go back and speak to my first-year teacher self, one of the first things I would do is explain the importance of effective instructional planning.

As you plan, keep in mind your students' stage of cognitive development. Knowing the traits of that stage will help you to make sure the content is relevant, engaging, and responsive. This will help your hard work translate into student success.

The Elementary-Age Child: Middle Childhood

During middle childhood, ages 7-11, your students' minds will grow by leaps and bounds. Concrete reasoning will begin to develop, and students will begin to recognize others' points of view, classify objects as belonging to multiple categories, and use logic rather than intuition when evaluating things. Piaget called this the concrete operational stage.

This process won't happen overnight, and so it is important to know your students. Are they 7-year-old students, who are just beginning their journey toward logical thought? Or, are they 10-year-olds whose logic has developed somewhat? Some students will even advance from concrete to abstract reasoning toward the end of middle childhood, while others, particularly students with special learning needs, might still be struggling to grasp concrete reasoning.

Aligned to Standards

The right content means you have the right topic and difficulty level for your students. Luckily, much of the work in making sure topics are well aligned to middle childhood has been done for us! Curriculum standards have been written and revised at national levels. They are then generally adapted by a committee of educators in each state to fit each state. They are continually reviewed and updated every few years, to make sure that our students are getting the education they need and deserve.

First, take a look at the standards that you are preparing to teach. Familiarize yourself with them, and make sure that as you craft each lesson you look at the standard(s) again. If you need to, research the standard more thoroughly online to see how other teachers are using it to guide their lessons. Looking for lessons that have the standards listed already is a great way to ensure that lessons on-track and age-appropriate!

Responsive

Students aren't all the same. They learn at different speeds and may need different methods of instruction. After familiarizing yourself with the standards, decide what skills are important for students to take away from the unit. Create assessments that are appropriate for middle childhood. Most students in this age range aren't capable of abstract reasoning, so create assessments with concrete reasoning in mind. A picture, for example, would be a more appropriate way to represent a math problem for a child in this age range than an equation with variables.

Assessment is a continuous process. Do a pretest to determine your students' prior knowledge to see if they need to work on prerequisite skills before a unit starts. If skills build on each other during the unit, stop early and do an assessment so you know where your students stand. Think of age-appropriate interventions that can be put in place to build skills for students who fail the assessments. Manipulatives or pictures are very useful at this stage of development.

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