My 5-step classroom planning process
I was asked this question the other day. It was followed immediately a second question, “Do you begin with the Australian Curriculum?” “No”, came my prompt response to the second part of the question. There were raised eyebrows in the room. Is this heresy? Maybe. But I run a student-centered classroom. I love to make my students visible, so the curriculum is never my starting point. Let me dive right in and explain my 5-step classroom planning process. And just for a bit of fun, I used Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain to help you remember the steps!
1. Know your students.
I have too often been caught out with having to re-plan my classroom curriculum, to begin anywhere other than with getting to know my students. I will spend up to 2 weeks at the beginning of a year on various activities that tells me about my students. Their likes and dislikes, learning styles, learning goals, educational attainment, cultural background, and so on. I have written about what this might look like in a previous post (Small Steps). The time spent doing this is never wasted, even if what I am doing doesn’t appear on the curriculum. Knowing your student makes your planning more valuable and the learning time more effective. I am not wasting effort attempting to teach students what they are not ready, willing, or able to learn!
2. Understand your environment.
Really? Yes. You see, I use a Universal Design for Learning approach to my planning. Whilst this is an approach that works best when the whole school is involved, there is much that I as the teacher can do to utilise it in my classroom. UDL is an approach that focuses on minimising barriers and maximising learning, based on scientific insights into how students learn. It comes from the Universal Design movement in Architecture, a movement that stipulates that a building and its environments should be “usable by all people to the greatest extent possible” (Mace, Hardie, & Place, 1990). This is what we need to consider for our classroom environment.
So, if I know my students, then I will understand that I need to create a classroom environment that will give access to all my students. To minimize any possible physical, emotional, curriculum, technological barriers that my students may experience in gaining access to their learning. I am passionate about creating learning environments that offer the best learning opportunities for all concerned.
3. Apply your frameworks.
Yes, you knew that was coming. Once I know my students, I can then select and apply an appropriate curriculum framework for my planning. I will always include Bloom’s – I like the use of the taxonomies he and his team developed. And it allows me to be very explicit in helping them to understand how to progress in their learning. This video is getting a little dated, but I think it explains it well for students and helps them to set their own learning goals.
Other frameworks I consider include the Teaching Learning Cycle, Williams’ Model of Creative Thinking, Maker’s Model, Kaplan’s Grid Model, Tomlinson’s Differentiation. I use what I know about my students to guide me in my selection – as this will help me to develop a curriculum that is suited to meeting their learning needs. I use my Curriculum Planning Decision-making Grid to help me make those decisions.
4. Analyse your Curriculum
Okay, now it is time to head to the Australian Curriculum and make some decisions about the broad curriculum learning outcomes I will cover. I begin by surveying the Achievement Standards. What is it that my students need to be able to do understand, know and do by the end of the year? This is important. The Australian curriculum requires us to align all our classroom planning with the students chronological age.
I would also at this time evaluate how well each of my students can achieve those standards. So, it is imperative that I know what the ‘typical’ student should be able to achieve, so I can set the assessments to measure the appropriate outcome. I will then review and select the relevant year level content descriptions and elaborations to begin the final step in planning my classroom curriculum.
5. Create your Content, Process, Product.
Now it is time to make decisions about the content I will cover, the instructional strategies I will use, and the assessment tasks the students will produce to demonstrate their learning. This is where I come back to my chosen curriculum frameworks, as they will help me to differentiate my planning (I wrote a little more about that here) and help determine the final direction my classroom curriculum will take.
Some final classroom planning notes
Of course, these last 2 steps are not linear! I go back and forth between steps 4 and 5 as I plan for the term, semester, year. And there should be regular reviews, to adjust for changes in the classroom, student progress, and other events. And let me also hasten to add, my planning includes extensive discussions with my colleagues teaching in the same year level and those above and below!
Finally, resources can also determine when I will be teaching certain content, particularly if I must share text sets with other classes! Having said that, one thing I tend not to do and that is let resources determine my curriculum planning choices. Ready availability of certain resources may influence the timing, but not what I teach. If I need to teach certain content, and the specific resources I had planned for become unavailable, then other resources will get utilised. It should always be about the learning outcomes!
That’s my 5-step classroom planning process. Know, Understand, Apply, Analyse (and evaluate) and Create. A quick way to think about how to make a classroom inclusive. Make your students visible. One where barriers to learning are minimised, and learning is maximised. One where every student is at the heart of the learning program!