“I got your lesson plans right here, buddy!”
You know the drill, spend hours creating a lesson plan weeks ahead of the class that you don’t even stick to because the students fell behind last week and now you’re playing catch up trying to make magic happen. I know. Or an administrator drops by expecting to see your lesson plan binder at the front of the classroom or the state-mandated objectives listen on the board, or whatever new wild scheme the wind has blown in this year.
Or maybe I’m the only one who has spent one industrious teacher work day in April writing lesson plans for the entire year because I didn’t do them. Or simply turned in an empty lesson plan binder at the end of another school year. Even if you’ve never gone to that extreme, I am sure you can relate to the misery that can be involved in writing the plan down in the expected format.
Focus on fundamentals
I spent a few years teaching at the high school level and quickly came to understand that my students had a different set of challenges than some of the middle school students I had previously taught. They also had a different set of strengths. Ultimately, this forced me to shift my thinking and realize that everyone, regardless of grade level or experience, needs to focus on fundamentals.
Over the course of my first year, I came to understand that there were numerous fundamentals that required much attention. I changed my approach during my second year and spent the overwhelming majority of the class time on fundamentals. In the band world that means long tones, lip slurs, scales, sight-reading, rhythm studies, and tuning. Many of the students were fine in many of these areas, but enough were weak in enough areas that it merited attention.
The plan boss, the plan!
The problem was that I knew I would lose the interest of many of the students if we went through the same routine every day. I am old enough to understand that slow incremental progress is happening, even when it doesn’t seem like it is. But the students don’t quite get that; at least not most of them. So I came up with a plan. I developed a two frameworks for my rehearsals: one for the structure of each day, and one for the structure of each week. What this looked like for me was as follows:
- Start each rehearsal with the Daily Drill (a concept I picked up from Jarrett Lipman)
- Move on to the Daily Focus segment (more on this below)
- If all Daily Focus benchmarks are met, move on to performance music
Monday – Methods Monday. Daily Focus is reading through a band method book. A method book teaches musical concepts in a cumulative and progressive format. The benchmark is to successfully play 10 exercises from the book. Student success is measured when approximately 80% of the students play the exercise correctly. The next week, we start with the last successful line from the previous week as review and move from there.
Tuesday – Technique Tuesday. Daily Focus is teaching and reviewing scales, scale patterns, lip slurs, or another other technical exercises. The benchmark is set based on what is being worked; often taking tempo increases into consideration. Student success is measured when approximately 80% of the students play the exercise correctly.
Wednesday – Whythm Wednesday. Daily Focus is teaching and reviewing rhythms and developing rhythmic literacy and fluency. Often students comprehend a concept, but do not have fluency with that concept. The benchmark is set based on what is being worked; often taking tempo increases into consideration. Student success is measured when approximately 80% of the students play the exercise correctly.
Thursday – Theory Thursday. Daily Focus is teaching students about or reviewing music theory concepts that are pertinent in the performance music. This gives context to the knowledge and aids in retention as the concepts are applied directly to something that the students can all understand. This lesson tends to flow fairly quickly into the performance music section, but the focus remains on the concepts at hand.
Friday – Fun Friday. The Daily Focus is the performance music. It’s fun, because the students often don’t see the benefit of the other days of the week, and I do so the music is much easier to rehearse because of the increased knowledge that the students have.
When I came up with this framework, I was able to set targets on my calendar and break the large goals up into smaller, more manageable segments. This allows me to plan out which skills needed to be mastered by a certain date so that we can move on to the next focus and hit our goals on time. It also helps me adapt the plans as necessary throughout the year.
But what if I don’t teach band?
I would guess that pretty much every teacher has a set of fundamentals that, when addressed as a daily drill, would improve the overall performance of your students. Maybe that’s something as simple as drilling the scientific method once a week. Perhaps you spend 3 minutes a day solving 50 arithmetic problems (addition Monday, subtraction Tuesday, multiplication Wednesday, division Thursday, mixture Friday using the same numbers each day). It’s not about completion, it’s about persistence. Or writing a short story each week by spending 5 minutes a day working on it.
I’m sure many of you already do these types of things. Is this what teachers call sponge activities? Am I just late to the game?
So how did that make you love lesson planning?
While I admit I do enjoy planning, I have long looked down on lesson plans because the prescribed formats have always seemed to inflexible. Once I had a framework for how the week would go, everything else just sort of fit into place. What it did for me was allow me to do all of my lesson planning in advance rather than having to create the plan each day based on what had happened in class the previous day.