Twice a year, I sit down to write out a semi-annual plan for my teaching. My table is strewn with all sorts of documents: summaries of the results from the latest round of assessments, lists of children per class, the books I use for each class, and copies of the old semi-annual planning. A cup of coffee and my laptop complete the picture, and I know I’m in for a long, but productive, sit.
Why would I put myself through this, I’ve wondered. I could, of course, just follow the book. Loads of teachers do that, every single day. Why wouldn’t I just do the same? And I must admit, it’s a bit tempting to do just that, sometimes. But then I think about how valuable this plan will be, how it will inform my teaching, and point out the real goals of my teaching in ways no textbook can.
What do I put into each semi-annual planning? The information is compacted into a table, and usually fits onto one or two pages. First, I’ll briefly describe what goes into each column, before going into details.
Heading: basic information. Which class, the period covered by this plan, name of the teacher, subject name, basic topics we’ll be covering, and which book(s) we’ll be using.
Column one: names of the children, listed in order from strongest to weakest. In general, the strongest 25% of the children become the “talent” group, the middle 50% of the children become the “basic” group, and the weakest 25% of the children become the “intensive” group. Each group has its own needs that I will need to meet via differentiation.
Column two: language goals for each group. What listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills do I think the children should learn in the next few months? I start with the basic group, and tack on a few extra goals for the talent and intensive groups.
Column three: didactic activities. What activities will we undertake to insure that the children learn the skills listed in column two? Will these activities be class-wide, small group, paired, or done individually?
Column four: time. How much time will be available to complete the lessons?
Column five: pedagogical measures I plan to take to insure that the children are participating – what kinds of feedback will I give and when, what kinds of questions will I ask and how will I stimulate the kind of language use I want the children to learn?
While I’m filling in this table, I find myself asking and answering hundreds of questions, the process of which informs and focuses my teaching for the months to come. Another side-effect of this planning is that I find myself energized and inspired with exciting plans for great lessons for children involved in their learning.
One of the first questions I have to answer, of course, is how to group the children. It’s never, ever, ever, a precise 25 – 50 – 25 split. I take into consideration where the children were in the last plan: did that “talent” child really do well in that group? Or did he do better when working with the “basic” group? Will that “intensive” child do better if placed in the “basic” group? Or did he really start learning because of the extra time and attention I gave him with the “intensive” group? This is where the results from the latest assessments come in handy. How much did each child actually learn during the last few months? In other words, did that child flourish in the group he was in last time? If so, and if not, what factors contributed to that? Will keeping him in the same group help him, or will he need to be placed in a different group?
Once the first column has been filled in, the rest, I find, is quite easy. I then pull out the tables in which the assessment results for each child are summarized, and draw lines separating each group. I look to see what skills the entire group is missing, and what might be a realistic next step. Where can these children go next in their development? In general, I choose 7 to 8 goals for the basic group, spread over the skills areas. I add on 2 or 3 for the talent and intensive groups. I have found that any more goals is simply too many for me to meet in my limited time, while any fewer isn’t ambitious enough.
The third column, learning activities, is the funnest. What kinds of activating, co-operative learning structures will we use? What kinds of pages will we use in our project notebooks? What kinds of role plays will we practice? This is the part where I get the most inspiration.
The fourth column is the easiest, of course. How much time do I actually get to teach each class, and that’s it. Also, am I teaching the entire class for that time, or is there time for small-group work.
The fifth column is where I get to spend time on self-reflection. What kinds of concrete action should I undertake to insure that each child feels safe enough to try speaking in a language that isn’t his own. How will I challenge the stronger children to strike out and learn even more English than they already know. How will I encourage the weaker children to take part, even when they don’t know all of the words or feel uncertain about themselves? These questions and more poke their heads up while I write.
In the end, I have a document that will guide my teaching for the next few months. I share this planning with the classroom teacher, so that he or she knows what we will be doing for the next half-year, and keep a copy in my class binder so I can always refer to it whenever I feel the need or plan the next theme.
I wonder what other teachers do, for their planning?