On any given day, it’s common for teachers to have wrenches thrown into their plans without warning. Sometimes these wrenches appear during the very class teachers are required to plan for! Other times, it feels like the whole damn tool chest is being tossed our way! This post offers tips on how to structure your planning so those wrenches have absolutely no impact, whatsoever…
Input & Compelling Diversions (**Forgot to include this yesterday!**)
When your plan is to provide input, and only to provide input in some way, the only wrench that can ever be thrown into this one is when students are taken out of the room! In other words, it doesn’t matter what you plan for as long as something unexpected happens that students find compelling. Be flexible, roll with whatever comes up, and watch the magic of input and interaction in a comprehension-based and communicative classroom! Abandon all plans, ye who enter into compelling discussions!
All of your planning should take place in school. If you can’t finish in school, you’re planning too much. Consider the super teacher with no life who stays late after school, plans well into the evening, and whose weekend actually ends Sunday afternoon before planning the upcoming week. This an unrealistic expectation, and a poor representation of teaching—an image our profession needs to shake.
As often as you can, do the same activities throughout the day in every class. If you teach different courses/class years, just vary for level. For example, plan that next Tuesday every class will do a MovieTalk, either increasing your the complexity of input, or selecting a different video depending on the class. Rotating schedules hinder vertical planning, but you can still establish routines on a weekly basis, shown below.
Establish activity routines for each day of the week (e.g. Monday MovieTalk, Tuesday Listen & Draw, Wednesday Quick Quiz & OWI, etc.). For rotating schedules that drop classes on certain days, think of this in terms of meetings throughout the week, whenever they occur (e.g. 1st class of the week – MovieTalk, 2nd class of the week – Listen & Draw, etc.). For variety, change your weekly activity routines every few weeks. I’m on my 3rd or 4th.
1-2 Day Agenda
By giving the week structure with activity routines, the only thing that changes is specific texts/resources, and agenda items for the day. Determine the class agenda 1-2 days in advance to allow for maximum flexibility and relevance. Avoid planning the entire week. Remember, wrenches will be thrown!
When objectives are viewed as communicative purposes, there are only a few appropriate ones given the classroom context, irrespective of the agenda planned; a) entertainment, b) learning, or c) creating. Plan class, then choose which purpose applies to the activity and content. When the content of class is the students themselves via communication, that objective/purpose is learning about each other. If there’s anything remotely fun, announce “Today, our purpose is entertainment.” When content is related to the target culture, the communicative purpose is to learn about them (e.g. “Today, our purpose is learning about the Romans.”).
These should be the only objectives you ever need to write! Avoid writing yourself into a grammatical corner, or setting most students up for failure by treating language as content to be learned. Student responses, their signals, and following any classroom rules should be sufficient evidence for meeting the objectives (i.e. communicative purpose), with the occasional quiz thrown in there. Don’t waste time on edubabble—humans have been acquiring language in all sorts of contexts for thousands of years without any buzzword teacher accountability measures! Post and point to the communicative purpose at hand whenever you’re observed for evaluation. This is a solid practice that any reasonable administrator can get behind. If not, you deserve a better job.
Weird Days & New Activities
Save new activities for those days that would otherwise mess up your plans, leaving one class section “ahead” of the others (e.g. each class should meet 4x/wk, but because of Assembly X, or Field Trip Y one class has an extra day). Don’t think too hard about that extra class. Instead, just try something on a list of input-based strategies and activities you’ve been meaning to try. To start making that list, now, visit this post.
Rethink how you quiz. Quizzing is different from authentically assessing incomprehension and making the target language more comprehensible in the moment. Quizzing is for reporting scores that affect a student’s course grade. Let’s face it, if we didn’t have to grade, no one would. However, student absences can really mess with planning and rescheduling quizzes.
To avoid those problems, restructure your grading system so that all quizzes form a body of evidence used to determine a student’s course grade. Start by creating a 0% grading category, the Digital Portfolio. Then, use a rubric to determine the course grade (using that portfolio evidence). For example, if you give 10 quizzes during a grading period, you probably only need 5-6 scores to see a trend of understanding for each student. You’ll never need to track down students again, or deal with retakes.
Retain all your planning time by giving immediate feedback in class right after a quiz. Have students score themselves as you go over the quiz, then get back to providing more input. Also consider a) reducing lengths of quizzes to an absolute minimum (e.g. 4 True/False, nothing more), and b) making quizzes input-based, not knowledge-based.