George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teaching Strategies

A Simple Tool to Help With Lesson Planning and Post-Lesson Reflection

The practice picker checklist provides a framework that teachers can use to help make sure their lesson plans are effective.

June 30, 2023
Hero Images Inc. / Alamy

We’ve all been there: sitting at our desk looking at a blank unit plan, a mountain of competencies, student-learning objectives, curriculum expectations, assessment results, individualized education programs, and a whole host of other must-dos that feel overwhelming or maybe even impossible! There are a lot of things we have to consider when planning lessons, and no one wants to accidentally leave out anything important.

It can be incredibly daunting to tackle all these expectations and keep best teaching practices in mind, which is why we were inspired by The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. His book examines how small, systematic changes could reduce errors in surgeries. Gawande looked to other fields, primarily the aviation industry, and discovered that checklists significantly improved safety and performance.

So, we wondered, can educators use the checklist process to help us climb that huge mountain of must-dos? We think the practice picker checklist makes explicit the inquisitive and reflective habits of mind for purposeful lesson planning that educators want to use when trying a new teaching practice—to basically streamline that mountain of must-dos into a manageable, time-saving checklist.

The practice picker checklist consists of nine simple yes-or-no questions that educators can use to determine if a practice might be effective for their students.

In trying to create our practice picker checklist, we did a lot of research on best practices, equity-based instruction and assessment, active-learning strategies, and student engagement. We synthesized the advice and research into four main categories.

The Core Four

1. Student centered. A student-centered practice ensures that the learners are actively engaged in the experience. The students need to be doing the heavy lifting rather than sitting passively. This practice could look like a discussion, an inquiry-based assignment, a group project, or another opportunity for students to choose how they display their knowledge. Ultimately, students are at the heart of the practice.

2. Relevance. A big piece of our research into best practices revealed that when students feel like what they are learning at school is important and relevant to their lives, they are more engaged.

It makes sense that our students would feel more connected to a topic if they could see how it would help them pursue their interests and goals, understand their community better, and show them how to influence their world in meaningful ways. That sounds really lofty, but by focusing on essential skills like problem-solving, decision-making, and communication, lessons can be immediately applicable to their lives.

3. Insightful thinking. Insightful thinking provides a novel project or idea in a unit. Insightful thinking also takes into account the varied perspectives of the student population within that classroom. The practice picker helps us evaluate if a practice provides opportunities for students to think deeply about the concept/topic for the lesson rather than a comprehension activity.

4. Universality. This comes from our belief that good teaching is good teaching no matter who, or what, you are teaching! Meaning, the best teaching practices work regardless of the grade level or the content area you’re working with. The beauty of best practices is that they work universally because they fit with what we know about human curiosity, motivation, and growth.

Using the Practice Picker Checklist

There are multiple scenarios where the practice picker could help us all take our lessons to the next level.

Lesson planning. As we have spent time reworking a lesson, the practice picker helps us sift through activities and practices for our current students. The checklist takes out the guesswork and allows us to objectively examine elements within a lesson. The checklist allows us to be objective as we critique a lesson and provides a more time-efficient collaboration process.

Post-lesson reflection. Sometimes we try a new lesson and feel mixed about the results. After a lesson has concluded, a checklist is helpful for evaluating its effectiveness and helps us investigate why the lesson did or didn’t work. This process provides a way to discuss a lesson objectively and ensure that the most accurate practice is being used for the current students’ needs. It also ensures that we use the same set of categories to drive the choices made in our classroom.

Scoring: What do all these checks mean?

When using the practice picker checklist, there is no magic number to indicate that the practice is definitely going to work. A practice certainly does not have to be a “yes” in all categories to still be a good practice for your students. However, it can help to look at it holistically:

  • Lots of checks in the “yes” category—that’s usually a pretty good sign! That would be a good indication that it’s worth trying out with your students to see how it goes.
  • A lot of checks in the “no” category—that doesn’t mean it’s definitely going to be a disaster but might indicate that the activity has to be tweaked to fit the group of students you have in front of you. Sometimes it’s worth putting in the time to make those changes, but sometimes it’s not, and you have to trust your professional judgment to see if you want to put the time and effort into improving it.
  • An even mix of checks in “yes” and “no” categories—if that happens, we suggest that you weigh the importance of each item against each other. You can ask, “Is this ‘yes’ more important in this moment than that ‘no’?”

Reflecting Makes Us Stronger

Education is an art, and this practice picker doesn’t eliminate the importance of listening to our “teacher gut.” However, a teacher may find that their “gut” is really an implicitly collected set of observations similar to this practice picker we’ve compiled.

This checklist takes what we, as educators, do intuitively and makes the process explicit and manageable for lesson planning, collaborating, and reflective practice. Ultimately, we all want what’s best for our students and to tackle as much of “must-do mountain” as possible. We hope that the practice picker helps you do just that!

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