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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lesson Failed: Do you have a Plan B?

For those of us starting school after Labor Day, August Anxiety is setting in.  Those nights where you are tossing and turning with new ideas, things you know you want to do differently and the anticipation of being “back to school.”  The week before school starts the idea pad next to my bed has all sorts of scribbles on it (some of which I cannot decipher!).    Planning is the key to a successful year.  Most people think that teachers’ time is split between classroom and grading papers.  The truth is, planning takes the most time. A good plan has a diversity of activities, movement, student interaction, hands-on, differentiation, accurate content, assessment, tech integration, etc.   Most people can’t even handle all the planning it takes to keep ten kids busy at a two hour birthday party.  What would they do with double the amount of children, a tight budget and grandiose learning objectives?
Getting Started
The first week of school is perhaps the most daunting as both yours and your students’ routines have to be established.  Not just school routines, but home routines as well, sleeping, dressing and eating changes drastically for everyone!  Throw in all those extra housekeeping tasks – class lists, gradebooks, sub plans, and for many of us real housekeeping tasks…. it can be overwhelming!
Step one:  Planning your room out
I know a lot of teachers who have gone back to the building to decorate their rooms.   I have to admit, that some of the rooms are a bit intimidating!  My advice is to keep it simple and let the student’s work be your d├ęcor.  My best bulletin board was a brick wall background and letters that said “Wall of Fame.” On day one, I described how you could get on the wall of fame (it was not easy) and when you achieved it, you could use whatever font you wanted, write your name, print it out and post it.  Kids loved getting on the wall!
Step Two:  Planning your lessons:  Expect the unexpected
There is no such thing as a perfect plan- there are just too many variables in schools – if you were working with widgets or robots, you might have a chance, but kids (adults too) and all the business (read busy-ness) of a school, always has the potential wrench to throw in the works.  Even if you teach the same lesson objectives 5 times in one day, you will see that what works with one class, student or time of day, will not work with another.  Be flexible.  All classes do not have to be in the exact same place at the exact same time.  And above all have a PLAN B.
Plan B
The most important lesson that I learned over the years was to always have a plan B.  I used a mini PBL that I introduced at the beginning of the year for students.  Each student had a folder with their challenge check list in it – they worked on this challenge when they had extra class time, when class was disrupted for assemblies, field trips, when a sub was in, etc.  They kept their work in the folder and the folder in the room.  My mini-challenge was all about inventions – I had computer games, links, patent info, Rube Goldberg activities, 20 ways to improve the pencil etc.  Much more than a folder full of worksheets.  Students could do the parts in any order.  All challenge activities led to them coming up with their own invention.  The grand finale was showing off their invention prototype and demonstrating it to the class.  We have had some great ones!

We all know the importance of a great plan A, but having a great plan B can insure that the learning continues no matter what the circumstances
What’s your favorite plan B?

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