Big Picture Planning
I love the planning process. What a gift it is to have time to think about what I wanted to accomplish during the next school year. I love trying to come up with new and creative ideas to help my students develop a love for moving and learning. The following steps outlines the process I use to set myself up for a successful school year. Enjoy!
1. The Idea Journal & Tracking What Really Happened
Journaling and reflecting all year helps to keep all your great ideas!
My planning for one school year actually starts during the current school year. I used to drive myself crazy trying to implement all of the ideas I came up with during that year. I would often find myself overwhelmed in trying to get everything done. As we all know there is only so much time we have to work with. Little changes could be done on the spot but the big ones would have to wait. So now I designate one journal for ideas that I would like to try but know I won't have the time for in the immediate future. The other practice I started a number of years ago is tracking what really happens in a lesson in my plan book. As with most teachers, there are times when good ideas come to me on the fly as I'm teaching. I usually go with them and afterwards jot down what really took place next to what I had originally planned. I have a friend who actually keeps a separate plan book for this purpose, recapping the entire lesson afterwards. These are two simple strategies that are helpful in not letting good ideas slip away.
2. The Summer Mind Map
I start my brainstorming for the upcoming school year as soon as school ends in the spring. Sometimes a bit before. I find that everything is fresh and for me this is the best time to outline and plan for the following year. It's also when I set my own personal goals. Personally, When I start mapping and planning for a year of teaching I need to see the big picture so I start with a big colorful mind map. I put it up on the wall in my home office where I can add to it whenever something comes to mind. The map provides a place to write down thoughts and ideas without having to do anything with them right away. It's a place to start organizing all that I have written in my idea journal or my plan book and add to those ideas in a very visual way. Some of my best ideas come to be during my morning workout. I can walk right in the house and write them down. Hmmm... what could that mean?
3. Blocking The School Calendar
When it looks like I have a pretty good picture of what I would like to include during the year I take the school calendar and block it out taking a look at where the natural breaks fall and how many lessons I will have within those time frames. This helps me get a better picture of what will fit and what might have to be "back burnered." The blocking is most useful when organizing units for grades 5-8. I teach younger grade levels on rotating basis but some coordination (equipment wise) with the age levels does help. In the elementary grades, students may spend 3-4 lessons on a specific set of learning targets and then they revisit them 2 or 3 times during the year. This is a more brain friendly way to use time. I have found that by blocking out the fifth through eighth grade first and then filling in the K-4 sections I can coordinate things so I'm not moving so much equipment every day.
4. Charting The Year
In early August I'll start charting everything out on big paper for each grade span. Again, I personally need to see the big picture. No matter how hard I try I cannot chart the year on the computer. It's just too small, I can't see everything at once and my neck starts to hurt! My brain likes to use markers, pencils and lots of color. I make one for grades K-2, one for grades 3 and 4, one for grades 5 and 6 and one for grades 7 and 8. As you can see this one is blank. It will be filled in with each unit or theme for a particular grade span. And the backwards design process begins. I'm so glad my school union brought Jay McTighe to provide professional development in Understanding by Design so many years ago. The headings? EU = Enduring Understandings, EQ = Essential Questions, what I want students to be able to do, know and understand, ideas for formative assessment and opportunities for reflection, summative assessment, ideas for rhymes, threads, call & returns, hooks, and finally instant activities, skill builders, activities, etc. I don't have them listed here but all of this aligns with the national standards. I put this in "to do" backpack (which has an assortment of things I want to do, read, write over the summer) along with a pencil with a good eraser and so I have a portable office that lets me take off on my bike or a hike to a beautiful spot and do some thinking and planning. I find that doing the initial planning this way lets me bounce around and again see the big picture. These charts will be the foundation for my lesson plans throughout the year. They also become the foundation for creating colorful visuals to launch a new unit or theme.