The Power of Planning: 5 Ways to Learn Through Writing Lesson Plans

Free PDF: 15 Great Q&A’s on the Common Core

15 Great Q & A's on the Common Core

When I go to observe teachers, I ask them to send me a detailed lesson plan before my visit. Though teachers generally aren’t excited by this request, I believe that thinking deeply about each step of a lesson prepares teachers for success. I don’t just ask teachers to write up lesson plans because I want to know what will happen in their lessons; I ask them to write lesson plans because they learn through writing.

Depending on the needs of the teachers I work with, I ask them to focus on different aspects of lesson planning. If a teacher is working on time management, I work with him to create a lesson plan focused on maximizing instructional time. Or if a teacher is struggling with adjusting lessons to meet the needs of her students, I work with her to come up with a “Plan B.”

Here are five ways to learn through planning:

1. Start with goals & standards

With so many important things to teach, sometimes it can be hard to focus. Backwards planning is often used during long-term planning, but it can be a great tool for single lessons too. Think about what you want students to achieve by the end of the lesson, then work backwards to plan the teaching and learning that needs to happen in order for students to meet that goal.

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What is Impact Volunteerism?

Last spring, I looked out my plane window and saw the view of Cuba becoming more detailed as we got closer. With the thud of the wheels touching ground, I had landed over 50 years after Fidel Castro had the courage to address a serious literacy challenge. Excited for the educational exchange that came through the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), I was filled with curiosity and motivated by the possibility of new insights. Ready to explore Havana, I hoped that my takeaways would add value to students and schools in the US.

Kevin Bennett in Cuba

Kevin Bennett in Cuba

A Historic Lesson

In 1961, during a time of strained relations between the US and Cuba, Castro strategically began the National Literacy Campaign. In just one year, the country mobilized its adults and secondary students to teach more than 700,000 people how to read. Sociologist Miren Uriarte describes in “The Right Priorities: Health, Education, and Literacy,” how in just one year, the illiteracy rate dropped from 23% to 4%. And they didn’t stop there — each generation improved until they reached and maintained 100% literacy.

Instructional manuals from the Cuban Museum of Literacy

Instructional manuals from the Cuban Museum of Literacy

Now, I know many people have opinions about Castro, Cuba and human rights. But as an educator and an American citizen, I can’t help but focus on the compassion, determination and commitment in these five simple words: every citizen will be literate. Period. No excuses. No debates. 100%. How did they accomplish this? They mobilized qualified citizens.

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Video Playlist: 9 Strategies for Effective Classroom Management

Creating a positive classroom culture can be a challenge, but it’s a crucial element in making a class run smoothly. In the video “New Teacher Survival: Classroom Management” featured below, Dr. Jackie Ancess of Columbia University says you want a classroom to be an “orderly and safe space so that the kids can learn what you want them to learn.”

Often this means setting (and enforcing) standards for appropriate classroom behavior. Identifying expectations for students and holding them to those expectations gives them a sense of stability and increases class unity. Classroom management doesn’t necessarily mean telling kids, “Don’t do that,” but rather creating a culture where the class understands, “We do this to be successful learners.”

This week, our playlist highlights a mix of techniques for fostering classroom management and a productive classroom culture. Some of these approaches may take a bit of time to set into motion, but several of the videos give tips you can try tomorrow.

Video Resources

1. Using a Number System to Streamline Class Routines

Ms. Ramos uses numbers to teach students accountability and reliability. Her system helps students feel that they have a specific place in the class while minimizing disruptions.

Using a Number Line





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Celebrating 1000 Questions and WAY More Answers (Special Download)

Free PDF: 15 Great Q&As on the Common Core

This week Teaching Channel celebrates another BIG community benchmark: more than 1000 questions have been posted in our Q&A feature. If you’ve never used this tool, we’d like to introduce you to this GREAT “Insider Secret” on Teaching Channel. Unlike big threaded discussion boards where you have to hunt for answers, Teaching Channel Q&A allows you to post your specific question on its own page and watch the answers roll in from our ever-growing community of nearly 450,000 teachers across America.

Common Core QuestionsJust see what happened when Terri Smith, a high school English teacher from Florida, posted a question about Common Core lesson plan templates — she wanted to find an easy-to-use digital version. Within a week, she had more ideas than she could possibly use. And even better, ideas continue to roll in. Every time there’s a new answer, Terri gets an email with a direct link to that answer. She doesn’t have to remember where she posted a question and hunt through a discussion board to find the answers. Q&A is a real time-saver for busy teachers.

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6 Routines to Support Mathematical Thinking

Whenever I take a new teacher to observe a veteran teacher, I’m surprised at what they notice. We could have observed the most impressive lesson ever, but without fail the new teachers notice the little things in the classroom: the way the chairs are set up, the routine the teacher has established for collecting work, the posters on the wall. They inherently know that seemingly small details can make or break teachers.

Back in July, Teaching Channel released a video series produced with the American Federation of Teachers showing how the Common Core math practice standards progress across the grades. This series is one of my favorites; in each classroom we watch students collaborating, explaining their reasoning, testing their ideas, and enjoying the problem-solving process.

If you’re like me, as you watch these videos, you will find yourself wondering how the teachers got their students to this point. What had happened to help students become independent problem solvers who could apply math to real life? Of course there must have been tons of rich math instruction, practice, guidance, and modeling. But there is something else going on in these classrooms — each teacher established routines and norms that support students to develop critical thinking skills.

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Tch Insider Secrets: Improving Your Practice with Notes

It’s a new year and we invite you to open your classroom door to more on Teaching Channel! This campaign is focused on helping you dig into your professional development, try new ideas, and stay engaged with your practice. With that in mind, we’re kicking off our campaign with a new blog series, “Top 5 Insider Secrets” to help you get the most out of Tch. In fact, whenever I tell teachers about our number one “Secret,” they say: “that’s fantastic but I never knew about it.”

Time to unveil our Number One Insider Secret: NOTES. We know as teacher leaders, you’re regularly sending links of Teaching Channel videos to your colleagues. But Teaching Channel Notes enables you to share videos with much more than the standard “Check this out!” So two quick steps to get started:

1. Find It: The “My Notes” tab lives on every video page right next to the tab called “Guide.”

Classroom Expectations

See it now? Once you’re a registered member, you can click the Notes tab and start writing comments about specific points in the video as it plays. I say “specific” because we add a timestamp to your notes. When you share those notes, your colleagues can fast forward or rewind to that moment in the video to see your specific comment.

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Honoring MLK Day: 11 Resources for Service Learning

Editor’s Note: Updated January 12, 2018

While the iconic leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., will long be remembered for his focus on the civil rights movement, his peaceful activism extended beyond issues of race to include other problems in society, such as poverty. He believed deeply in the power of a united community and in creating a better future for everyone, and so it’s no surprise that we celebrate his legacy with a “Day of Service.”

The thing about service is, it is a gift that gives back, even when you expect nothing in return. It teaches us empathy, and brings us closer to others, sometimes in unexpected ways. When I was in the second grade, my parents took me with them to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity. I liked the work, learning how to nail together a frame for the house, painting doors, watching concrete being laid. We worked for several weeks, and on the day we turned over the keys to the family that was moving in, I was excited to see one of my best friends in my class at the ceremony. “What are you doing here?” I asked him. He looked at me, a bit puzzled, and replied, “We’re here to see our new house.”
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On the Road: Find Teaching Channel Teams at FETC

The Teaching Channel Teams crew is heading to FETC, a conference dedicated to providing educators with inspiration and collaboration around improving teaching and learning through educational technology. Teaching Channel Teams will be there showcasing our social and video-enabled collaboration platform for schools, districts and education organizations.

Teams FETC

Stop by our booth, number 330. Say hello, see Teams in action, get some Teams goodies, and enter our raffle for a chance to win a SWIVL™–turn an iOS device into your personal cameraman!

Also, don’t forget to attend a Speaking Session with Jennifer Magiera, Digital Learning Coordinator, Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Find Us!

Guided Reading: 6 Ways to Improve Literacy Skills

Literacy is arguably THE essential building block in learning, no matter what subject is being taught. If a student can’t understand what variable they need to solve for in a word problem or how the steps of photosynthesis work, they aren’t “getting it.” That’s why the Common Core standards call for improving literacy across all disciplines, not just the humanities.

Guided reading is an important strategy in improving literacy skills. Students gain confidence reading texts that are accessible to them at their level, but still present some challenges. Readers work through these challenges with guidance from their teacher or even peers, improving fluency and comprehension as they go.

We’ve gathered some great resources on guided reading to help you implement this strategy in your classroom.


  • Guided Reading with Jenna demonstrates how teachers can efficiently assess students’ learning by meeting with students in small groups and asking questions about a text.

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Reflection Fest: Goals for 2014

Goal for the year

Reflection Fest Day 5: Goals for 2014

Happy New Year! On the last day of Reflection Fest, let’s think about the coming year. What goal(s) do you have for your teaching or for your students this year?

I hope to further my coaching practice by videotaping more of my coaching sessions. I did this once so far this year and found it was an invaluable way to learn about my development. Even looking at my own body language as I talked to another teacher told me a lot!

Reading the lists of goals from our Tch community is inspiring:

  • “My goal is that every student I came in contact with is excited to write. Writing is power, and kids need to see that.” — Katie Novak, K-12 Reading Coordinator, Chelmsford, MA
  • “Refine best practice and move students to greater independence on all standards.” — Esther Wu, High School English Teacher, Mountain View, CA
  • “I want to see more students address texts in scientific contexts with the skills needed for note taking and identifying information relative to the purpose of the text.” — Shelia Banks, School Support Specialist, Marrero, LA

Share your goals for 2014 in the comments section below… and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

2014 Open You Door

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.