Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.
What Is Instructional Planning?
When you tell someone you're a teacher, what's the first follow-up question they ask you? ''What subject do you teach?'' The definition of our jobs as teachers often comes down to our subject and curriculum.
However, even one subject, such as math, is quite broad. What is the grade level math? What is the ability level of your students? How many students are in your classes? Do you have to meet state standards for your course? To answer these questions, we as teachers engage in instructional planning.
Instructional planning encompasses both the long-range plans (i.e., the overarching objectives that we carry through the year) and the short-range plans (i.e., the day-to-day objectives we plan for each class). Both are essential to having a well-planned curriculum for the year. Here, we'll talk about strategies for both long-range and short-range planning.
Let's start with long-range planning by stopping to imagine that we want to build a house. What's the first step we might take? Would we decide on the overall structure of the house first, or would we just start assembling parts right away? In this example, it's easy to see that having an overarching goal is the best way to complete a project. The same is true for our classrooms.
When you're a new teacher, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with the loads of responsibilities that come with teaching. Sometimes we find ourselves just planning lessons day to day in an effort to stay afloat. However, like building a house, it's important to remember what you want to get out of your curriculum long term. This is where long-range planning comes in.
Long-range planning is the scale planning we do to meet goals for whole units and the entire school year. It's great to have a vision, but how do you know what goals to pick? There are lots of skills students could learn each year.
To start, turn to the state or national standards for your subjects. You can use these to figure out which goals to choose for the year. Yearly goals are often skill based or relate different topics to each other. For example, writing a five-paragraph essay might be a year-long goal practiced throughout different units.
Once you have your yearly goals, you should again use the standards to create a curriculum map for your units. How long do you need to spend on each unit? What do students need to know by certain dates in the school year?
If possible, try to get assessment data for your students to understand their prior knowledge and skills. For example, if your math class has already mastered graphing, you might need to allocate less time for this in your instructional long-term planning. If your students are English Language Learners (ELL students), you can look at their state scores in English proficiency to judge what reading level they need to be successful and how much support they will need to achieve the state standards.
Once you've established your long-range planning, it's time to get down to the details. To transition from long-range to short-range goals, you can use a strategy called backward planning. In backward planning, you start with goals established during your long-range planning and work backward to design weekly and daily lesson plans. The planning of these smaller goals is called short-range planning.
Think about how to break down a large goal into smaller parts, such as understanding the relationship between structure and function in cells. For example, you might want to first teach students the structure of cells. How long will that take? Which parts do they need to know first? Think about exactly what steps need to happen for you to reach your unit goals.
Unlike long-range planning, short-range planning should be more flexible. Based on how your students met the daily objective, you may need to adjust your lesson for the next day. Evidence of a successful lesson plan may be scores above a certain threshold on a test, a certain percentage of students that are able to complete an exit ticket, or a more subjective assessment such as an in-class debate or a discussion. Students should be able to meet the learning objective before moving on.
Customize Your Planning
State standards aren't the only thing to consider when doing instructional planning. You also have to consider the most important part of your classroom: your students. As teachers, we know that every year brings an entirely different experience. Each child is their own person, with different strengths and areas for growth. So what should be considered when planning for a new class?
First, you need to make sure you understand the developmental level of your students and the complexity of the content. Even if you teach high school, your students may be behind grade level and a ninth-grade level text may not be appropriate at first. You may need to build in time to practice the old skills needed before expanding on them to master new ones. The amount of time you need depends on the skill and ability level of your students.
Also, you need to consider your student's interests. Is there a way to work this into your short-term planning to make your lessons more engaging? For example, a class full of sports fanatics might enjoy working with basketball statistics to learn graphing.
Many students love hands-on projects as well. To increase student engagement, consider budgeting time for these types of activities. It's possible to understand botany without actually growing plants, but we're much more likely to understand and remember the stages of plant growth if we grow a garden ourselves.
All right, let's take a moment or two to review. As we learned, instructional planning is the curriculum you develop for your students. Long-range planning is the overarching goals for long units or for the entire year. It should be based on students' current ability levels and state standards.
You can transition from long-range planning to short-range planning through backward planning, where you use long-range goals to guide your daily lesson plan objectives. Short-range plans (i.e., the planning of smaller goals within the long-range plan) should be revised daily based on student achievement. Customizing your planning according to student ability, interest, and engagement level is also important.
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