Are your lessons successful? How do you know? In this insightful article, you will discover:
- How to judge if a lesson is successful or not
- 3 evidence-based ingredients that will help your lessons to succeed
In the past, part of my work as a principal involved observing lessons and giving feedback to my teachers. How did I make my judgements about these lessons? I based a lot my judgement on my own experiences as a teacher. Then, I coupled this personal insight with whatever the latest edu-babble was at the time. As a result, I have previously encouraged teachers to adopt everything from whole language and Bloom’s taxonomy, to productive pedagogies and constructivism, naïvely believing that the authorities spruiking these practices had sound reasons for doing so. In reality, some of these theories have little if any grounding in evidence at all.
There is only one way to judge if a lesson is successful or not, and it has nothing to do with jargon-laden checklists.
You became a teacher because you wanted to help kids learn, so it follows that you should determine the success of your lessons by looking at the success of your students. This is what I mean by lessons that get results.
The ‘must have ingredients’ you will find below are not based on personal opinion. Nor are they based on blind adherence to any educational theory. Rather, they come from a review of hard research on what works. In fact, research shows they each have more impact on student results than most other factors. Individually, they are powerful. Together they are a potent.
Essential Ingredient 1: A Clear Goal
The first essential ingredient in lessons that get results is a clear goal. Setting lesson goals is easy, inexpensive and has a massive effect on student results. The effect that goals have on achievement is so large, it rivals the effect of socio-economic status.
Sadly, most teachers do not set lesson goals. Rather, most day plans I have seen are dominated by topics and activities, interspersed with routine activities that occur each day.
To have any impact on how well students do at school, you must write your goals correctly. The good news is that this is not hard to do.
Lesson goals always explain what the students need to understand and what they must be able to do by the end of the lesson. For example, in the goal, ‘add fractions with different denominators’, students need to understand what fractions and denominators are. They need to be able to add those fractions. Often, goals also contain a specific condition, which in this case is that the fractions in the sum must have different denominators.
Then, you simply put these elements together, typically with a starting statement such as, the students must be able to …
The students must be able to add fractions with different denominators.
The students must be able to connect what they read to their prior knowledge
The students must be able to list key events involved in the Battle Hastings in chronological order
By setting lesson goals, you clarify what success entails, which:
- Helps you to focus the activities you include in the lesson
- Challenges and motivates your students
Try writing your weekly plan as a list of goals, rather than topics and activities. Here is a Sample Year 6 Weekly Plan.
Essential Ingredient 2: Some Show & Tell
The second essential ingredient in lessons that get results is show and tell.
Put simply, telling involves sharing information or knowledge with your students while showing involves modelling how to do something. Once you are clear about what you want your students to know and be able to do by the end of the lesson, you need to tell them what they need to know and show them how to do the things you want them to be able to do.
You don’t’ want to spend your entire lesson telling kids stuff, so it is vital to focus on things they genuinely need to know. To do this, have another look at your lesson goal. Your lesson goal helps you to know what you need to tell children. This may include sharing key facts and explaining associated vocabulary. It may also include discussing rules that students could follow to help them in their subsequent task.
For example, consider this Year 6 lesson goal:
By the end of today’s lesson, I want you to be able to identify prime numbers.
You would need to explain what identify means and what a prime number is. Your explanations should be concise and student friendly.
Showing students how to do things involves modelling both the visible actions and the underlying thinking. You model your inner thinking using the think-aloud strategy, which can be visually displayed in a thought bubble. Helping students to self-verbalize the steps involved in a task has a large impact on their subsequent achievement. This is why it is important for you to think-aloud while modelling how to do the task.
To finish your show-and-tell, you can make up a chart to summarise your main points. Here is one Abby shared on her blog about her classroom – Inspired Apple.
Essential Ingredient 3: Plenty of Practice
The final essential ingredient in lessons that get results is practice. Practice makes perfect, and you should allow plenty of time for your students to practice what you have taught them.
You should start some guided practice. This involves giving your students time to practice new things while supporting them to do so. This allows students to become fluent while refining their skills. During this time, you monitor how well they are doing so that you can offer prompts and feedback as needed.
Once your students seem to be doing okay on their own, it is time check their work. This enables you to ensure that have it right before moving on. It also gives you an opportunity to recap the key knowledge and steps as you look at some examples as a class.
If the class is ready, you then give them time to do independent practice. This practice helps them to improve their fluency and retain what they have learned. If some of your students still need help, you can reteach them and give them time for further guided practice while your other students do independent practice.
Research shows that it is crucial for students to continue practicing overtime. While practice is a ‘must have’ ingredient of a successful lesson, it is important that you allow them several subsequent opportunities for further practice.