Thursday, June 5, 2014

It's Never Too Early to Plan for Next School Year

As the final bell rings on the last day of school, it is tempting to run out the door with as much exuberance as our students do.  While shutting the computer down from time to time is both incredibly valuable, necessary, and even freeing, before we complete say goodbye completely to the 2014-2015 school year, it is important to take time to pause, reflect, and even start considering what next year will bring.  In these last days of finals, with this year fresh in my mind, I want to take time to look forward to the excitement and learning that will fill the 2015-2016 school year.  Here's my finals week action plan:

1. Go through old lesson plans.  Really go through them!  

I've taken to an agenda system that involves daily Google Docs that I push out to students in a common share folder, as suggested by my great friend and colleague, Heather (She's an awesome follow on Twitter and a great source of knowledge about all topics related to teaching and ed tech).  On each agenda, I include daily learning targets, learning activities (which include: docs, handouts, presentations, videos, etc.), homework, and additional resources to look at if students have additional time.  As I plan for next year, I want to use the resources built throughout the school year to reflect on my pacing, effectiveness of individual lessons, and ways in which I can make lessons more engaging, meaningful, and memorable for students.  However we lesson plan or whatever system we may follow, this is an excellent resource that indicates how we have taught and how we can improve the quality of our courses.  While it is tempting to just scan through these plans quickly, taking the time to reread and reflect on daily work and units as a whole makes planning and preparation for the upcoming school year more thorough.

2. Look at the calendar for next year.

This one has taken me a few years to discover.  Looking at where/when holidays fall, the placement of major breaks, sports/activity schedules, semester schedules and how that could potentially line up with curriculum is critical.  Students attention spans and motivation to learn on a Monday than they are on a Wednesday or a Friday.  In addition, once certain check points hit in the year, that motivation and quality of work does alter.  For example, once prom hits for seniors in the spring, lessons need to be tight, directly applicable to their lives, and involve less formal researching in comparison to February when it is freezing outside and few school activities are occurring (besides IHSA State series).  To ensure the best work from students, timing is essential.

3. Assess technology usage.

Technology is constantly evolving!  Every day a new app or web tool is created that could potentially help improve the execution of a lesson or student learning in some capacity.  The amount of web tools available is overwhelming, but reflecting on what worked in the classroom this year establishes a strong foundation of what will continue to work the subsequent year.  Considering the stumbling blocks or limitations from the current year is also a great way to begin the initial search for new tools as well.  For example, I am hoping to do more screencasting on Chromebooks with students, find better methods for students to create videos with the technology we have available, and also hoping to access more literacy tools for struggling readers.  Now that I have established those goals and have specific purposes for the use of technology in mind, I can narrow my focus with the web tools that I explore.  Planning to use technology with specific purposes in mind makes exploring less overwhelming and more meaningful.

4. Reexamine qualitative information, student work, and feedback. 

Looking at the grade book and various polls taken throughout the year can allow us to reflect on our classrooms from the student perspective.  Their performance on unit tests and grades as a whole can also show me what I should spend more time on and what went well this year.  I love using Google Forms to get student feedback after grading major papers or when students have completed major projects/speeches.  It challenges students to reflect on their work ethic, progress made, and efforts.  In addition, it starts a conversation between students and me about what worked in the classroom and what can be tweaked to enhance the student experience.  Any type of feedback in this regard improves the learning experience for our future students as we learn, grow, and reflect ourselves!

5. Consider current events, news items, and pop cultural shifts in the last year.

I teach a class called Rhetorical Analysis of Media that focuses on developing media literacy in high school students.  Discussing advertising, popular culture, film, and the Internet, certainly challenges me every year to reflect  on what is occurring in the world.  Every year, my curriculum has to change to align with the times, but even if I didn't teach this specific course, taking the time to reflect upon the changes in the world can enhance the curriculum of any course.  Pop culture and current events are the best topics to incorporate when trying to make lessons meaningful and applicable to students.  When learning connects to their lives, students are more invested in the content and actually begin to make connections themselves.  The use of what is occurring in our world adds a little bit of fun to class conversations, themes, and units!

6. Consider how you've changed and what you've learned. 

This year marks the end of my 6th year of teaching.  Wow, the time and the years go quickly.  A lot has changed in my life since graduating college, I have taken way too many graduate courses, and I certainly have gained a great deal of perspective from the experiences that I have encountered.  I'm sure we can all echo similar sentiments that as the seasons in our lives change, so do our approaches to teaching.  This last step really does take the summer to reflect upon, but it is never too early to start.

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