Posted by: jockmackenzie | May 13, 2010

Year Plans ² – Grade 8 LA: More Thoughts, Same Request

Keeping with my Robert Reed theme of the last entry, here is another of his great photos – Lake Louise, Alberta.

More thoughts about a “year plan”

– I have asked around for ideas from other teachers and was surprised to get this response from Mark in Wisconsin: By “year plans,” I’m not sure if you are referring to a specific concept that I don’t know about. He went on to give good advice which I will share soon, but I was taken aback by his comment. Is there a more generic term? What I have in mind is what administrators ask for at the beginning of each year when they say, “Please hand in your year plan for each course. These are due in the office by September or October whatever.”

– to quote Mark’s main response: “. . . I’m a big fan of sitting down in May/June, taking a blank piece of paper, and sketching out an outline for each class I’m going to teach. I find that the space makes me focus on the big picture and sketching out during the current year means that I can think about what worked/what didn’t.

I think the main benefit to limiting my space is that I must articulate in just a few words the main goals for each unit: that really helps the next year when I know that every day for a single month I can focus on teaching, for example, the concept of ‘voice.'”

another response (and this and Mark’s come from English Companion Ning) came from RHE in North Texas: “I wonder if the reluctance to share is a measure of the disruptions we face.” (Jock’s note: I had mentioned teachers’ reluctance to share their year plans – as I did at the beginning of the previous entry.) RHE went on to talk about how the best-laid plans can be disrupted by the agendas of others, and, also, the demands of high stakes tests. These thoughts are worthy of consideration as you plan to remind you that you must be aware of the BIG picture before you spend an inordinate amount of time and effort planning something that will be “re-priorized” by someone higher up the chain.

And now back to my own ruminations:

– I ended the previous entry with the comment that it was time to look at specific units of study for the year. In general terms, the first step is to determine which steps are the building blocks for future steps. A unit on writing (with an emphasis on sentences and paragraphs) would supersede the Essay Unit. A unit on poetry would come later in the year because, despite my love of doing this unit, I couldn’t see it as being of equal validity when compared with more basic skills. The placement of my units can be seen in blog entries on September 11 & 13, 2009.

– variety is always a factor. As I have mentioned previously, I attempted to ensure some activity for each strand, each month. Reading and Writing were easy; the others (Listening, Speaking, Viewing, Representing) took a bit more planning. As one example, on the same theme of building blocks, “speaking” activities needed to be designed to slowly move from pairs, to small groups, to our class, to speaking to a group of younger students. In some instances, specific activities had to be designed to hone in on particular skills. “Listening” should be a skill used daily, but how does one teach “listening”? I had to dream up lessons because I couldn’t find many readily available.

– assessment was yet another factor to be considered. I firmly believe in formative assessment (and I hope I was using it before I’d ever heard the term) and I was lucky enough to work with Lucille Gleddie and was able to adopt her wonderful habit of “timely praise.” In a nutshell, Lucille shared immediate, heartfelt, timely praise whenever it was warranted. She wasn’t one of those “oh, isn’t everything just fabulous” bubblers, but she did let you know when you had done something well. It felt great – and made you want to do it again.

– another assessment thought involves ‘code names.’ (See entry “Classroom Management – Knowledge of Results: Code Names.” from February 5, 2010) The code names certainly help, but I had to have checks, quizzes, and tests to enable my use of the code names. Over time, I developed a bank of assessment techniques and was able to slot them in appropriate places. My preference is to have as many assessments as possible – and as many as possible being the quick and easy variety. Being a realist, I am also aware of the need to teach students about testing. I didn’t see it as a particularly negative, selling out to the man activity when I talked about multiple choice choices, or how to read a test question to find the key words (are you to list, discuss, compare, give examples?) but as learning how to learn and reading for information – all life skills.

– as a language arts teacher, I was always on the look out for good literature. With time being short, I had to find a way to keep reading so I could offer the best possible stories, poems, novels, etc. to my classes. I suggest “The Mix.” Plan your reading time to include your own personal reading mixed with professional reading. In reading period at school, I often read YA material and then some of my own; I enjoyed both. I followed my mother’s example and tried to always have a book with me – school text or personal novel. Whenever possible, I wrote in the books. I noted figurative language, difficult vocabulary, moments of foreshadowing, characterization, and so on. In literature texts, I would jot a brief story summary at the beginning of the piece.

– as you plan your year, it’s important to have a filing system where you keep the ‘good stuff.’ Whether it’s literature that you’ve found and like, or methods of teaching certain concepts, or exercises you’ve created or borrowed or tweaked, you need to be able to lay your hands on the bricks and mortar. It was always an ongoing struggle for me to have things in the exactly the right place so I’ll simply suggest you do it better.

Well, enough for today. More on year plans once I’ve gathered more good ideas from others. I’ve got a Mother’s Day Brunch to get ready for, a golf game to play, and I have to watch my taping of the third period of last night’s NHL play-game. So much to do, so little time – and I’m retired!

Same request as before – if you have something to share, please get in touch.


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