A Rubric for Lesson Plans

I’m starting to see a lot of different teachers teach. Yesterday I got to see 13 different teachers teach, in 10-15 minute snapshots, in their classrooms while I observed their students. Reflecting on teaching through the lens of student behavior, learning, and active engagement is quite interesting. The goal of this wasn’t to draw any conclusion about the teachers as professionals, but instead to see how different“teacher moves” seemed to facilitate different student behaviors.

I’m becoming fascinated by the mechanics of effective instruction. What makes good teachers so good? What can we learn from them that we can then share with others interested in improvement? What is the essential skill set that creates the type of results we have grown accustomed to from good teachers?

I’ve had several opportunities to engage this idea through the lens “blended learning” (enhancing/augmenting instructional and assessment techniques with the strategic use of technology). Based on what technology is available, some teachers are doing some pretty effective blending with some Plicker cards and an iPad camera. Others are able to create vibrant online launch pads for their classrooms so that students could stay home a day or two per week and still be full members of the classroom community.

But a good teacher move is a good teacher move. The forces and resources that lead to technology integration in any classroom are highly localized, but effective instruction is, in many ways, global. Most students don’t learn well sitting still in the same chair for long stretches. Most students don’t learn well when they are never given a chance to demonstrate new learning. Most students don’t learn well in isolation. (Notice all these pseudo-generalizations said “most.”)

So, if we can pseudo-generalize the things we know don’t work, we should be able to reasonably pseudo-generalize the things that do… right?

So, that leads us to an essential question: To maximize the chance of producing effective learning, what must a lesson have? Or do? Or avoid?

Imagine that I’m giving you the opportunity to create a rubric to score a lesson. (In my mind, I imagine the moment when the lesson falls apart or it becomes apparent that the kids didn’t learn. Was it because the lesson was poorly-designed? Or because of some outside factor?)

Pause here for a moment…

Resist the temptation to think that I am trying to define some cookie-cutter-type template that all lessons will originate from. (Like, “all lessons must start with a review time, then all lessons must have 10 minutes of teacher-led direct instruction, then…”) That’s not what I’m doing. “A good lesson” is going to look any of a countless variety of ways.

But the fact remains, “good” lessons exist. And they differ from “lousy” lessons.

But what makes them different? What do “good” lessons have/do/avoid, that “lousy” lessons don’t?

I tossed out an idea to the blended learning PLC that I lead (which included a #flipclass MS math teacher, a HS social studies teacher, an instructional coach at a special education school for students who have a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities, and a HS Spanish teacher who does blended learning coaching half time).

What are the instructional “musts” that we can agree on? I challenged them to create four “musts”. In order to have the highest chance of creating good learning, a lesson “must” ______________________.

What would you say? There’s a comments section you can use, if you’d like. I’m interested in your thoughts.

(Next post, I will share the answers produced by the PLC. But I’ll wait until then. I want to give you think time first…)