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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The end of the school year has finally arrived. You can start fantasizing about the novels you'll read, the closets you'll clean, the places you'll go. However, pulsing in the recesses of your mind is a whisper: You know you should plan next year. It would be so useful to reflect on what you did this year, to pull together some resources for a new unit, and to crack open that book on teaching writing that everyone says you should read.

In those final days of school, contemplating spending part of the summer planning sent you scurrying to schedule root canals. But here's the raw teacher truth: The summer is the perfect time to plan. Even three days of work can yield months of results. Once you start, you'll get into it, and you'll thank yourself next year.

The following are some thoughts about how to plan, when to plan, and what to plan so your time is fun and productive and invigorating:

How, What, and When

Get paid, if possible. Your principal may have some money left over for professional development and may be able to pay you extended contract hours. Ask.

Get units if you need them. There are accredited institutions that offer credit for planning time, and acquired units will advance you on the salary schedule. Many colleges, including the University of San Diego, offer courses online through their continued studies programs. Before enrolling, check with your human resources department to make sure the units from the institution count.

Get a buddy. Choose a colleague who also wants to plan. It's a lot more fun if someone is sitting next to you and the peer pressure will keep you from bolting. If you can find another instructor who teaches the same subject or grade and wants to coplan, that's ideal.

Get started planning right away. I strongly recommend that you don't schedule planning for the last week of summer vacation. Even though by the end of school, I'm always exhausted, I'm also often in a superproductive zone where I'm simultaneously reflecting on the past year and planning the following year.

Whenever I've had to go to professional development during this time, I'm always amazed at how much I get done and how engaged I am with the material. It's tempting to just take off into summer la-la land, but try using the first week to plan for the next year. You'll be impressed with how juicy this time can be.

Plan Your Planning

Set goals. I often hope to accomplish way more than I can. At the end of the summer, I just feel bad about what I didn't do. Write down what you'd like to get done, and then revise that list for what you think you can realistically get done. There's a lot of useful stuff online about setting goals. Take a few minutes to read about SMART goals.

Brainstorm. Jot down all the topics that come to mind. You might have a long list of things you want to plan, or should plan. Narrow the list down by using the fun factor: Go through it and star everything that looks like it would be fun to plan and teach. Then go back through it and circle the items that seem like they'd be really fun. Go with the topics that make you feel tingly.

One summer, I needed to plan seventh-grade English and history. I needed to learn more about teaching grammar and academic literacy, to read about a dozen young adult novels, and learn about medieval Europe. The Middle Ages won out. My idea of fun was to read everything I could about the bubonic plague.

Project Learning

Project learning rates really high on the fun factor -- in planning it and teaching it. And for students, it's the ultimate learning experience. Summer is a perfect time to plan a really great unit. Here's an article from Edutopia.org about project learning that might give you some ideas.

Planning a project-learning unit might include taking field trips, previewing movies, contacting guest speakers, reading high-interest fiction and nonfiction, and wild brainstorming. In short, planning such a unit is inherently fun.

The summer I immersed myself in the plague was really a thrill. In the end, it was part of a unit about how societies deal with death and illness and how epidemics change political-economic structures, social systems, and religions.

Our final project was a living museum -- a dramatization of different scenes in a medieval European village during the plague. This unit was one of the most successful units I taught that year, due in large part to the planning I'd done over the summer. And for me, reading about epidemics constituted major summer fun.

Anything Will Do

Any planning you do will be rich and useful. Even if you plan only three days, the process you use, the mental space you will have -- not cluttered by a hundred other things to do -- will give you practice in planning that will impact you in the following year. Planning, like all aspects of teaching, is something we get better at the more we do. But remember, teaching -- and learning -- should be fun.

What would you like to plan this summer? What are your suggestions for making planning fun? Please share your thoughts and ideas.

Comments (75)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Angela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, I'm Angela and this will be my second year teaching fifth grade. At the end of last year, I took home all the instructional books for every subject, and to be honest, they haven't made it out of the office. Sometimes in summer, it is easy to get wrapped up in the ease of the summer months, but it is extremely smart to plan, even if it is just for a couple weeks. I find it easier to plan if my entire team is present. That way we can be on the same page with our curriculum. Even thought the article states not to wait until the week before school to start planning, that is what we do. My team gets our rooms together about 4 school days before the school year starts; that way we have ample time to sit and plan for the upcoming month or so.

Tonya Tripp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that an effective classroom plan involves advance planning of a lesson, from beginning to end, using a variety of procedures. For the teacher, this means utilizing classroom management techniques all throughout the lesson in order to maintain a consistent learning atmosphere. Such techniques involve focusing on the whole class, rather than on individual students and their behavior. Because teachers are watched by many pairs of eyes at a time, it is crucial that teachers focus on procedures that enforce his or her role as a classroom manager. I feel that it is very important to review procedures and classroom methods that include daily routines and other specific activities that recur frequently in classrooms. They usually apply to a specific activity, and are usually directed at accomplishing something. Some examples of classroom procedures are admitting late students, how to greet and seat students, collecting and reviewing homework, methods of informing the class of the day's lesson and leaving the class. Students will constantly test the teacher's reaction to all classroom management issues. In this respect, consistency is the key.
I believe that once the teacher has acquired control of the class, she or he is ready to teach new material. Some useful techniques include writing the lesson agenda on the board during the first five minutes of the lesson and discussing them. Others include doing something that will catch their motivation right away. Starting the lesson with taking the attendance roll often has the effect of losing the students. Once the students are on-task, more routine procedures can be done quietly, such as checking the roll or lunch count.
Students should be prepared for the main task of the lesson. If they are expected to read a historical narrative, they should be given enough background information. In short, the main task of a lesson should follow some prior activity, in order to find out what students already know. Brainstorming is a good classroom management technique because every student participates on his or her level and every child is involved. The whiteboard or smart board could have all the components of the lesson, including the times, denoted for each part of the lesson. When the students have completed the tasks, the teacher can check them off. Teaching is a mixture of "ups" and "downs." In one lesson, they can work at a high level and another they go down and forget all the things a teacher has taught them. But this shouldn't cancel the actual classroom organization plan, which should be based on reviewing and reinforcing classroom procedures as consistently as possible.It is important to avoid repeating the same kind of lessons within a period of a month. Give the students a feeling of diversity and excitement.
In conclusion, students should know the basic routines and procedures of a lesson. They should also know which punishment a teacher normally gives for such things such as not handing in homework or making noise in class. At the same time, they should also know what they need to do in order to receive positive reinforcement. Classroom management should be focused on the whole class rather than on individual students in order to maintain an ongoing effective and consistent classroom organization system.

Jill's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm Jill and Presently I am teaching 4th grader's in the city of "Vegas" NV. Our school has 5 different tracks. I am on the track 1 (which means we meet all summer). The last day for our students will be Aug. 7th and then the track 1 students start back to school mid-Sept. I will be teaching 2nd grade next year with a team of 7 other teachers. I am looking forward to it. I think that the team will get together prior to the start at the end of Aug. and then I and another teacher will come in about three weeks after everyone else has started. The teams at our school do most of their planning together. So other then indiviualizing my room and how I incorperate the lesson plans into my room...it may be difficult to do much planning ahead. I am looking for creative ideas for grouping and setting up the room. I am also a student of Walden University.

patricia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always get together with the girls to plan during the summer and it is a lot of fun. We actually have time to sit down take a math standard and brain storm. Sometimes we come up with group activities, and other times we come up with an amazing worksheet. I loved your idea about making a list. I think as the year goes by I will start that list so that by the time summer comes again I have a list to circle. Thank you for the idea

patricia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello I am Patty I really enjoyed reading your blog. I always get together with the girls to plan during the summer and it is a lot of work but we enjoy it. We actually have uninterrupted time to sit down take a math standard and brain storm. Sometimes we come up with group activities, and other times we come up with a mini project but the bad part is that we normally only have time to plan for a few standards in the three days that we meet. I loved your idea about making a list. I normally put stickies on my teacher's manual saying that the lesson went well or that I must work on the lesson. I think as the year goes by I will start a list this time and share it with my friends so they can add to the list or write down ideas that they get because by the time summer comes by those ideas are gone.

Judy Weurding, Atlanta metro area's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think of the same process every year. Once in a while I actually follow through. I like your idea of reviewing every week; I would post notes in/on what ever I happened to be viewing at the time. By the end of the unit, the transition to the next unit usually takes up any slack in time. You are an inspiration!

taylor's picture

Although the school year will be over and I am thinking about summer as much as the next teacheris.I know I must stay firm, fair, and friendly, because it appears to me at the end of the school year students begin to have more behavior problems and teachers tolerate less.

I believe that if you begin your year with a good routine and structure in your class, you will finish the year with a good routine and structure.

My biggest concerns of the summer vacation are students. We do not have enough summer programs in our community for middle school age students. Therefore,I spend as much time as possible with them while their in school. Helping students to participate in extra curriculum activities such as sports,helps to keep them focus.

Suzanne Young's picture
Suzanne Young
First Grade Teacher from Rural Missouri

Although I am just finishing my second year of teaching, it is hard to find motivation during the summer for projects. Like many of you, I take a lot of pride in my classroom and teaching, and know that it is not possible to not come back to the classroom until school starts again. We really do not have summers off like many believe.

I absolutely love the idea of taking it in small steps so you are not overwhelmed. Last summer I moved from a special education classroom to a first grade classroom. I am still finding resources, supplies, and materials the other teacher left and learning what needs to be taught. Taking it day by day is definitely the way to go.

Hopefully everyone is enjoying their summer and taking time to relax and get rejuvenated :)

Aprileena's picture

Last year I purchased a small notebook that I kept with me throughout the summer and the school year. I used to to jot down ideas and also "to do" lists.. It helped me out a lot and I plan to begin one right away this year too!
Even though it would be nice to forget about school during the summer, it is not something I can do! I like the idea of finding a buddy to work with. My school is very small and it is rare to find a teacher to collaborate with (since most of us teach at least two grades). Last summer I met with another kindergarten teacher (from a different school) and she allowed me to "steal" ideas from her. Now that I have experience in kindergarten it would be great to get together with her to exchange ideas. I could also meet with other teachers from my own school to just be with someone! Even though my school is an hour away from my home, one of my colleagues lives on my street!
I think that I will develop a lesson planning pacing guide in order to keep myself on track over the summer! That way I can be sure to plan out as much as possible and not miss anything.
Thanks for all of the great ideas and especially the inspiration to get to work!!

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