Planning and Preparation Reflection

This post is a reflection on my strategies for planning and preparation (Domain 2) for the American School Foundation of Monterrey Track 1 project.

Self-evaluation rubric

DOMAIN 2: PLANNING AND PREPARATION Level
2a. Demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy. Meets Standard
I display solid content knowledge, make connections between content and other parts of the discipline, and use accurate, current and appropriately-difficult content. I do not always anticipate student misconceptions.
2b. Developing an appropriate instructional plan. Meets Standard
I prepare plans consistent with ASFM standards and curriculum and share them with appropriate colleagues and administration. Plan may offer opportunities for curriculum integration.
2c. Selecting instruction objectives. Approaches Standard
My objectives are moderately valuable and reflect the ASFM curriculum standards, and most clearly reflect student learning and permit viable methods of assessment.
2d. Demonstrating knowledge of students and resources. Approaches Standard
I have generally accurate knowledge of my students’ developmental characteristics, skills and cultural norms and interests but am still growing this knowledge and do not always apply it in planning. I make limited use of resources available to support student learning.
2e. Designing coherent instruction. Meets standard
Most of my learning activities reflect my backward planning process, evenly progress and are aligned to assessments. Instructional groups are appropriate but only moderately successful in advancing instructional objectives.
2f. Assessing student learning. Meets Standard
My learning objectives, instruction and assessment align with each other and with the Math department. I am starting to identify formative assessments.

Reflection

My first year at ASFM has also been my first year taking a whole class from the first day of school to the final exam, and it has been a new and welcome challenge to plan for a whole year of classes. My main planning goal has been to ensure that I stay on track according to the ASFM curriculum documents. I feel I have achieved this goal, although resolutely staying on track has sometimes come with drawbacks to student learning, for example when I have decided to press on to a Unit test instead of taking more time to help students master content. The structures that the school sets up, such as partner teaching and resources from previous teachers, have been a great help in my planning.

One of the challenges I have encountered in planning is to reconcile the objectives of backward planning with the resources provided by previous teachers, which make it possible to plan out and teach a year without really consulting the course standards or curriculum. Over the course of the year, I have found a balance that worked for me as a new teacher: using previous years’ resources to support my day-to-day planning tasks such as individual lesson plans and unit assessments, and starting from the curricular documents when making broader-view plans, such as six-week plans (see example plan) or the course final exam. For example, to make the Math 9 final exam I weighted the value of the units on the exam to match their weights in the course syllabus. In this way, I have not started from scratch in the course while ensuring that my teaching continues to match up against the course objectives.

As I teach math courses with very detailed content-objectives, I have found the course syllabus to be very helpful in planning. I have made less use of the detailed standards documents, though in the next few years once I get more familiar with my course material and have more confidence to tinker with my curriculum, I will look to the standards to inform any decisions I make. One example of this is an early change I have looked into with my co-teacher Elena in Pre-Calculus 11. Feeling that the students could benefit more from an in-depth trigonometry unit than from a basic intro to conic sections, we consulted the course standards to see whether such a change would continue to meet them. Of course, we also consulted our Department Head and administration to understand why the conics unit had been selected.

objectiveIn constructing an individual lesson plan, I first consider what my objective is for the class, consulting my six-week plan and unit plan. This objective is usually a specific math topic, for example “Ellipses,” along with one or two goals, in this example, “To graph ellipses from standard form,” and, “To convert ellipses in general form to standard form.” I then consult the school-provided resources to see whether they are consistent with the objective. Generally, this means consulting the math workbook distributed to students as well as lesson notes and assessments from previous teachers. While I always put my own visual and organizational stamp on a lesson, I have found that I can often take previous teachers’ lesson notes and use them in concert with the student workbook to fulfill the stated objective for a lesson.

This approach has been very helpful to me as a first year teacher, though I expect that as I gain experience I will diverge more from the provided resources as I find more personally effective ways of teaching and gain a better sense of how to discriminate among learning objectives. While I always make my learning objectives for a lesson clear by outlining them to students at the start of the lesson and displaying them on my SmartBoard, I am still developing my sense as to how each individual objective fits in as a part of the learning objectives for the whole year, and how to develop the most valuable objectives into lesson plans that go beyond the provided resources.

In some cases I have innovated beyond the previous years’ teachers to fulfill lesson or unit objectives. This is especially true when I have planned unit projects. The Unit Assessment Maps for my classes outline projects for each unit, and I have worked to make sure that each of these are truly projects requiring some higher-level creative thinking that complement our in-class work, rather than worksheets that duplicate our class homework and quizzes. I have remade about half of the Math 9 unit projects as a result, and have worked with Elena to remake some of our Pre-Calculus 11 projects as well. An example of a project that I created was a challenge project for some of my high-achieving grade 9 students, which required them to correctly estimate the area and perimeter of the school building from independent research.

One of the tremendous advantages I have had in planning this year has been working with Elena to plan Pre-Calculus 11 classes. We meet informally two or three times a week in our common spare period to review upcoming lessons, activities and assessments. We have kept our classes almost exactly on the same timeline and have used all common assessments including quizzes, assignments and unit tests. As well, we have worked together to improve the unit assignments on several units. Planning with a partner has also helped me anticipate difficulties the students will have with the material, as we often discuss this while determining how to schedule the lessons during a unit plan.

As I mentioned at the top, sometimes I have found a tension between sticking with a set unit or six-week plan and adjusting the schedule (especially around an assessment) to ensure that students have achieved the unit objectives by the time of the assessment. I have made judgement calls on both sides of this, sometimes adding an extra review day and sometimes pressing on; however, I feel that as a new teacher looking to get through the full curriculum, I have erred on the side of the latter, sometimes to the detriment of students who could have used an extra day or another formative activity before a summative assessment.

Resolving this tension is an area where I have a goal of improving in the next few years. I noticed while reviewing previous Math 9 final exams that the last three years’ exams from second semester incorporated my last first-semester unit and were very light on the end-of-year material, indicating perhaps that the teacher incorporated valuable enrichment or remediation activities, and had the flexibility to adjust their pacing in accordance. In the next few years I plan to focus more on student learning in my planning, incorporating more flexibility into my plans by prioritizing the most valuable learning objectives and activities.

Another planning-related where I would like to improve is in planning for differentiated lessons and assessments. None of the material provided was differentiated in a significant way, and while I have differentiated some assessments and lessons, I have not been able to incorporate it in a fundamental way to my teaching. I will touch more on this in my reflections on the domains of instruction, assessment and student learning.

In sum, I have successfully completed a year of planning classes, using the ASFM-provided standards and syllabus documents to guide me, and I believe I have met the standard that ASFM expects of its teachers. Given this, I would like to improve my planning by focusing more on standards and student learning, which require having a more flexible approach where I identify and capitalize on the most valuable learning objectives, planning my units around these rather than going down the lesson list provided by prior teachers. I recognize that this is a gradual process which will necessitate making gradual changes to course materials such as the student workbook and my unit activities and assessments, and I look forward to this challenge in the next several years.

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