We knew we couldn’t go on planning like this. We were feeling the burnout (lunch periods were spent planning and prepping some more!), and our students weren’t getting the best of us or our curriculum. Something had to change. Something had to shift from chaos to clarity. In fact, three things had to shift, and while we didn’t know it then, these three shifts in our planning process formed the basis for what we now call The Balanced Teaching Approach: concrete strategies for streamlining your lesson planning and going from stressed and overwhelmed to gaining confidence and clarity in your teaching.
Figure out the texts, standards, and projects you will be doing for the whole year. (If that seems too daunting, do it for a grading period.) Batch lesson planning and mapping out EXACTLY what you’re going to teach each day, week, and month will ultimately free up hours of your time and give you a clear roadmap to follow when it comes to lesson planning. Knowing exactly what standards you’re teaching during the year and WHEN you are teaching them, helps eliminate the weekly Pinterest and blog searches for the perfect lesson. Leaving 1-2 blank “floating days” in your planbook will help you plan around unexpected assemblies or days you might be out sick.
Imagine on Sunday night, you already know exactly what’s happening that week in your classroom and what standards you’re addressing that week. Sundays are no longer that pit in your stomach feeling of, “I don’t know what I’m teaching this week,” and you’re frantically searching online for a good lesson. Instead, you know exactly what’s happening … maybe you even made your copies on Friday, and now the weekend is yours to enjoy! This frontloading planning will help you feel calm, confident, and in control of your curriculum!
Many teachers are worried that having a structured daily framework for their lesson plans will result in redundancy, a lack of creativity, and take away any ability to have fun in your classroom. This is a dangerous assumption to make, and we don’t want you falling into this trap. But at some point, most of us believe this is true – ourselves included!
In fact, the opposite is true. Just like strong classroom management, having structure in your lessons, actually allows you to build in fun. Because you are consistent with your daily lessons, you are able to cover more content, which frees up time, allowing you to build in fun and engaging lessons.
When we taught ELA, (Jessica in 5th grade and Caitlin in 8th grade) we had 60 minutes per day with our students, and we followed a very specific framework when planning our daily lessons. It included the following in this order:
Keep in mind students’ attention span in middle school is between 12-15 minutes, so it was important to us to switch up activities
There are several benefits to having a structured framework when planning your daily lessons, some being that it lets students know exactly what to expect and it streamlines the learning period … no wasting time on transitions. Another benefit of having a structured framework is that it SAVES YOU TIME PLANNING! For example, once you find a good bell ringer, now you’re done for the year! This part of your lesson is planned for the ENTIRE year!
If you follow this system for big units and everyday lessons, you provide consistency for students and YOU! Simply fill in your lesson plans with an “into,” a “through,” or a “beyond” activity … then rinse, and repeat.
Check out these ideas for “into,” “through,” and “beyond” lessons:
Into: Hook students and get them interested in the lesson/unit, front-load them with necessary information; specific examples: build vocabulary, get them curious (popcorn predictions), provide necessary background information (historical context of story, biography of author – show short content-related videos), etc.
Through: Once students are prepared to begin the unit, the through portion of the lesson focuses on comprehension and exploring new material. It can last days or sometimes weeks if you’re doing a novel unit. Some specific examples include reading response quilts, evidence trackers with reading material, games that practice ELA standards, etc.
Beyond: The focus is on expanding and deepening students’ thinking/analysis. Students apply what they learned in the “into” and “through” lessons in enriching and empowering activities. Specific examples include responses to literature, narratives, research projects, original poetry, one-pagers, etc.
Making these three shifts in how we approached lesson planning, completely transformed our teaching. No longer were we burnt out before the school day even began. Instead, we were enthusiastic and confident knowing our lessons were organized and engaging!
Just by learning what we covered today, you’re one step closer to your ultimate goal, which is to find balance, clarity, and confidence as an ELA teacher. But we have to say, it’s SO much more than just finding that.
Because learning about and implementing this approach to lesson planning means you’ll have the clarity in your lesson planning and delivery of content, and the peace of mind that you’ll finally have time for the things you love to do outside of school. And that’s what really matters. Because when you’re happy, well-adjusted, and spending time with the ones you love, that’s ultimately going to make you a better teacher.
So take what you’ve learned here today and start putting it into practice. Maybe you’re just in the beginning stages, or maybe you can apply it right away. The key thing is to get moving! You’ll want to take these small steps which will get you where you want to be.
To go even deeper on this topic, listen to our episode on The Balanced Educator Podcast below.
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