How To Get Unstuck When Planning Your Lesson
You sit down with a cup of coffee and the best of intentions: to plan out your new unit or lessons for the week.
You Google your topic, consult Pinterest, and maybe look at a teacher’s guide for inspiration. Then you look up.
A half hour has passed.
“Enough!” You say to yourself, “Let’s get to work!”
But you don’t. You open some more tabs in your browser, sign into Facebook, check your email… then the negative self-talk creeps in:
You’re getting behind. Why can’t you do this? Why is this so hard?
Then it hits you: you’re stuck.
The struggle is real.
Like you, we have faced this feeling countless times in our combined 45+ years working with students and teachers.
So, hear us out on this: THIS STRUGGLE IS NORMAL.
Artists struggle when making art; scientists struggle when finding and solving new problems; why shouldn’t you struggle with the heart of your craft?
Planning lessons for diverse learners—let alone a whole curriculum—is probably the most challenging part of teaching, both at the unit and lesson level.
Yet, many teachers we work with say that they either didn’t have formal training in lesson design or don’t get the planning time, feedback, or support they need at school.
Of course we get stuck.
But there’s good news: in our work as teachers and as thinking partners with teachers we have developed an awesome way to get unstuck. Read on.
Use GEMS to “crystallize” your goals
Generally, we get stuck for one or two reasons:
- we don’t know our overarching unit or curricular goal
- we try to “do it all” and cover too much in one lesson/unit
Naturally, getting clarity on our goals represents Step 1 in unleashing our creativity.
Enter GEMS, a flexible action tool for crafting learning outcomes in record time.
Each element of GEMS—Goals, Evidence, Measures of Success, and Stakes—represents a high-leverage move in instructional design and connects to the element before it, resulting in a super-aligned set of outcomes for your learners.
Goals: the skills learners will develop and apply
Evidence: the deliverables learners create and perform to prove they learned
Measures of Success: the quantitative and qualitative “bar(s)” or standards of quality that learners’ products or performances should meet; the definition of “done”
Stakes: the “why” behind the learning, including why learners will commit or buy in
For each element, we ask ourselves questions and provide a short list of examples.
GEMS works at every level of the planning process to give you the clarity you need.
We have used GEMS to set goals with teachers, entire schools and districts, not-for-profits, entrepreneurs building businesses, and even personal fitness goals.
And there’s a reason: it works. It keys you into the essential components of an effective learning outcome.
Plus, you have flexibility. You can match multiple goals to one piece of evidence (or vice-versa), you get a goal-setting tool that works for you.
A true leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. In that order.
When you know your goals, your students can know them, too. For teachers who co-own the goals, the planning process comes much more naturally. They get unstuck automatically.
Instead of constantly worrying about getting unstuck, the clarity frees them up to release their imagination and create the type of learning experiences they always envisioned in their ideal classroom.
But it all starts with the clarity. If you try this, you will experience it, too.
Start big or small. Flesh out GEMS for your year or what’s left of it, your next unit, or even tomorrow’s lesson. You can use our free worksheet.
The higher up the chain you go, the easier subsequent planning becomes. Getting unstuck for good means thinking long-term and sketching GEMS for the year or semester.
Whichever path you choose, the most important thing is to start.
Want an interactive action tool for GEMS?
Click here to claim your free download today.
Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm:
A full time classroom teacher for 13 years, Jeff Wilhelm is currently Distinguished Professor of English Education at Boise State, director of the Boise State Writing Project and a teacher of middle schoolers each spring. He has authored 36 texts about literacy teaching including: the NCTE Promising Research Award for “You Gotta BE the Book” and the Russell Award for Distinguished Research for “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys”.
Adam began his career at the Bronx School for Young Leaders where he taught, led a grade team, chaired two departments, coached, and served as intern-principal. He went on to co-create and help start the School in the Square, a public charter school in Washington Heights, New York. Now, Adam teaches teachers, school leaders, entrepreneurs, and businesses how to foster transformative learning within and across their organizations. He is the founder of Empower Your Learning and is dedicated to reimagining professional training and learning for educators everywhere.
We want to see your GEMS, hear how it helped (or didn’t), and answer questions you have. Sound off below in the comments!