Two “Must Make Moves” to Get You Ahead In Your Lesson Planning
Tick. Tick. Tick. All you see is that awful cursor flickering on your screen, telling you what you already know…
You still have a blank page.
When you sit down to outline your curriculum for your grade level or course, it can be a bit overwhelming. You have a million and one ideas. But where do you start? What should you do? What’s going to be the most helpful for your students?
Solution: EMPOWER Your Teaching
Throughout our personal and professional lives, we have been fascinated with answering: How can we consistently design and deliver the best learning experiences for our students?
That question led us to examine teaching and learning across different fields, age groups, and cultures, searching for what they all had in common and cross-referencing everything with Jeff’s award-winning research in literacy and motivation.
The result of that journey? The EMPOWER Method, a universal process for planning transformative learning.
The EMPOWER Method is a framework “moves” teachers can make to engage learners and develop their expertise. The result? Students achieve, teachers thrive, and both feel empowered.
Here are the “must make moves” that make up the EMPOWER Method:
E: ENVISION a meaningful destination for your learners.
M: MAP out the milestones of the journey
P: PRIME learners— pique their curiosity and connect new learning to prior learning
O: ORIENT learners—help them make sense of the challenge and the value of the learning
W: WALK-THROUGH the key concepts and skills required for success
E: Let learners EXPLORE new territory on their own without your support
R: REFLECT with learners—What worked? How? Why? What are next steps?
Once we started noticing these categories, we found that students whose teachers incorporated all the elements of EMPOWER into their teaching—either intuitively or because they knew the framework—saw greater levels of student engagement and achievement while students of teachers who left out elements tended to hit common roadblocks like boredom or confusion.
And you know what happens: When you bore or confuse them, you lose them!
As you look through the categories of EMPOWER, you might realize that you are already making many of these moves in your teaching practice. That is great!
We are not trying to reinvent the wheel; we’re trying to give people a flexible tool they can use to cut through the clutter and get plans on the page.
With EMPOWER as your instructional “north star”, you can design plans that check all the “boxes” and make sure existing plans are on point without the guesswork.
We’re going to tease out the first two steps of the model—Envision and Map—in a real-world teaching and learning situation: teaching someone to speak Spanish.
Your first step would be to envision a destination for learners by setting a concrete goal.
“Become fluent” is too vague. How fluent?
“Hold a multi-topic, normal-speed conversation in Spanish with a native speaker over Skype” or something similarly tangible could work. Any statement that starts with a verb and ends in a worthwhile outcome.
The destination must be vivid. It’s not a test score. It’s a skill or process that learners can apply without you (or depending on their developmental level, with minimal support from you) by the end of the course/unit/lesson.
PUT IT INTO ACTION
Next you can map the milestones of the journey, bite-size checkpoints that help you and your learners monitor progress towards the final destination. When learning targets too large (“become fluent”), students get overwhelmed. Every journey begins with a small step…
So, what might milestones along the way to holding a full-on conversation in Spanish look like? Perhaps, over the course of a year, students might:
- MILESTONE 1: Follow the action in a Spanish comic strip.
- MILESTONE 2: Order a meal in Spanish. (BONUS: Explain that someone in your party has a food allergy.)
- MILESTONE 3: Read a kindergarten-level book in Spanish and discuss it with a child.
- MILESTONE 4: Have a simple, topical conversation in Spanish with someone on the subway.
- MILESTONE 5: Watch a Spanish short film with closed captioning (not subtitles) and hold a simple conversation about it at half-speed.
And so on, up until:
DESTINATION: Have a full, normal conversation in Spanish with my Skype “pen pal” on a topic that goes beyond the basic “¿Cómo está usted?”.
Digging in a little deeper, we would then tease out the parts of each milestone. For example, for Milestone 2, ordering a meal would require learning how to (1) read items off the menu and recognize food vocabulary, (2) request items off the menu and ask questions about it, (3) understand what the speaker is saying.
Of course, if the task is something like writing a narrative, the milestones might look a little different:
- MILESTONE 1: Have students craft a bunch of five-sentence stories to get practice (in miniature) about what stories have and what makes them work. (There are books of 55-word short stories perfect for this purpose.)
- MILESTONE 2: Generate a set of interesting characters with goals using pictures. “Steal like an artist” and borrow ideas from TV shows and books you like.
- MILESTONE 3: Generate a story premise and outline the story’s major parts along a story arc.
- MILESTONE 4: Storyboard each scene in the story.
- MILESTONE 5: Begin drafting the story, scene-by-scene.
- MILESTONE 6: Complete Version 1.0 of your story.
- MILESTONE 7: Test on audiences and revise in light of feedback.
All the way to your DESTINATION: Submit a polished short story to an online teen magazine.
Your milestones would vary based on the age and developmental level of your students, but the idea applies no matter whom you teach. Even professional writing workshops for authors break down the learning into manageable steps.
If you do your task first (i.e. write the research paper, read the literature, perform the process), you will gain insight into where learners might struggle. Doing so allows us to anticipate and then pre-teach around those stumbling blocks. And ultimately, those documents become the basis of your lesson plans.
PUT IT INTO ACTION:
1) Considering your students’ destination for the year or this unit, what would be significant milestones they could aim for along the way?
2) For each milestone task, what sub-skills and concepts are required? Put yourself in their shoes. What will they need to know or be able to do to reach each checkpoint?
3) BONUS: Do the task you want learners to do to develop empathy and insight.
Can we help you EMPOWER your teaching?
We know that there is so much to do in so little time at this time of year—it can all feel like a lot. Suffice to say, we hear you, and we’re here for you. We would love to support you more personally in EMPOWER-ing your teaching.
Or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to setup a FREE 20-minute consulting call.
As always—we are honoured to support you and wish you the best of luck on the upcoming year!