Planning #SOL23 19/31

In grad school we once read an article titled “A Little Too Little and a Lot Too Much.” Of course I immediately fell in love with the phrase. While the author was writing about action research, I have found that this can easily describe almost any number of things in my life.

Today, the phrase skipped through my mind, taunting me, as I planned for this week’s classes. I love planning classes (well, mostly), so when a colleague swung by this morning for help thinking through a media unit, I was all in. We narrowed here, widened there and talked until the core of the unit was much more clear. My colleague found text after text; I asked questions to help her deepen her thinking. I loved how our thinking moved from specific to theoretical and back again. I delighted in the way we thought of concrete examples and ways to ground the work. It was fantastic.

After that, I turned to planning my own classes. The Reading class was surprisingly quick to plan. Now that I have a research-based plan (I’m using Dr. Jessica Toste’s free resource WordConnections), I feel much more confident about where we’re going. Next came Grade 12 English. Here, I had already laid the unit out day by day – we’re somewhere in the middle – so today I needed to create visuals to support the information I want to share about how to do academic research. Luckily, I find it wildly interesting to consider what will be most effective in catching and keeping students’ attention.

(Ahem, I find it so interesting that I just wrote two paragraphs about all the things I consider, consciously or subconsciously, as I decide how to communicate a topic. It’s a lot. Then I realized that this wasn’t the point of this post. I had gotten lost in getting lost in planning. Sigh. I’ve decided to include them at the bottom of the post because it might be interesting for you real teaching nerds out there, but most people will probably find themselves going a little cross-eyed with boredom.)

Soon, I was deep in planning mode, imagining what various students might need or want and considering the best ways to help each student learn. When I surfaced again, I realized two things: 1) I had spent far too long planning and 2) planning is one of my happy places. I didn’t mind being “a lot too much” about creating this lesson.

It’s a good thing, too, because my next realization was the time: I had “a little too little” time to do anything like an equally thorough job planning for my Grade 9 class. Fear not! I’m not slighting them or anything – I absolutely know what we’re doing tomorrow. It’s just that I’ve used it before, and I didn’t have the time to tweak it for this semester’s kids.

No problem. I’m used to a little too little and a lot too much. I’ll use what I learn from tomorrow’s classes to help me plan for Tuesday.

*How I plan a slide show or other information delivery:

I call to mind a few different faces from the class. With these people firmly in mind, I consider what I know they know, what I know they don’t know, and where I still have questions. I look things up to see how other places break down these steps. I wonder about lagging skills from the pandemic. What will they need to be able to do this research successfully? What will students need to practice? Where might kids need an off-ramp to think on their own or to pause if that’s all they can do today? What assumptions am I making? Who am I forgetting to consider? Eventually, I determine how many links I need in the chain of ideas to make sure everything holds together.

Once I have the content (and order sorted), I turn to layout and design issues. How many words on a slide before my audience’s attention will flag? What needs to be hyperlinked and what needs to be explained in the document? Where will images help these particular students remember? Where will they distract? And then there’s font: no cursive fonts or curlicues because some students who don’t speak English as a first language can’t easily access it; careful with colours because at least one student is colour blind; make sure the font is big enough to be legible from the back, dark enough to be easily read, maybe go with gray rather than black to reduce contrast a bit… Obviously I don’t think through each of these questions one by one like going down a list, but I do pay attention.