Semester Planning 101
I've posted variations of this material on the Teacher.Net chat boards several times. Please consider and experiment to suit your own style and requirements.
Description: Pre-planning the semester ensures students cover the critical course objectives and promotes an articulated presentation of material. It also presents the teacher as the organized leader of the classroom and a team member to the faculty.
Objectives: Cover all essential elements in the supplied curriculum
Ensure students are prepared for specific standardized tests
Eliminate "What will I teach next week" problems
Create a master plan for grading and classroom management
Create organization and management
Intended Audience: Entry level teachers
Teachers needing to improve management and organization
Teachers needing to show continued improvement
Supplies: Notebook with plenty of paper/word processing program
Access to various school administrators (especially coaching staff, administrators, and office help)
Establish the calendar.
1. The calendar provided by the school will be only the beginning. To it add the "real" standardized testing dates, any pre-testing dates (often not noted on the calendar), the accustomed half-days for holidays and school activities such as homecoming, and any "special events" that happen every year, such as visits by elected officials, visits by celebrities, parties. Add to this the most important athletic and extracurricular events that will pull students from your classes. Typical examples include basketball tournaments, band trips, and field trips. You might need to check with other teachers, counselors, and the secretarial staff about this.
2. Have a frank discussion with an experienced local teacher about the district. If a common activity or custom drives the schedule, you will need to work with the community. For instance, if most students attend church on Wednesday nights, then giving a major test on Thursday will mean many students will not be prepared. It might be better to move the test to Friday.
3. Establish the actual dates the report cards will be issued. Back up from those dates to determine when the office actually wants the report cards completed and the extra paperwork submitted (such as copies of the report cards, addresses of the parents). Add those dates to the calendar.
4. Establish the dates and if possible the times for the grading period tests (9-week/semester). Normally these will fall a few days before the report cards go out.
5. Back up from the exam dates at least 2 days and mark as "Review for Exam".
6. Determine standardized test dates and back up 7 school days for a one-day discussion of test skills and behavior.
7. Provide 3 to 5 days at the beginning of the semester or school year for classroom training and pre-training.
8. Provide 1 to 2 days at the beginning of every grading period (9 weeks) for classroom behavior retraining or cleanup activities
9. Provide at least 2 days in the grading period for catch up, make up, or bad weather days. If not needed, these days will be used for enrichment activities.
10. The marked up calendar now represents the actual schedule. Whenever possible, you will avoid starting units during high stress times, and avoid giving unit tests during high absence times.
Establish the curriculum:
1. Always begin with the provided materials. The department chair or principal should give you or provide access to the local district curriculum and/or that of the state. Websites for the state boards of education often have these materials available for download; the Teachers.net state chat rooms may also be a resource. It is also possible to do a web search for the curriculums of other states; use google and type in 7th grade English skills or high school geometry; many great teachers post their curriculums on the internet.
2. Obtain whatever information is available on the standardized tests given to the students. Often the state education website will have materials, the counselor may also give this information.
3. Talk to the teachers for the next grade and ask what skills they perceive as essential at the beginning of the semester.
4. Write down the list of skills -- this will form the basis for the objectives.
5. AFTER this list has been established, consult the textbooks provided by the class. Material that is in the textbook but not on the list will probably be enrichment. Material on the list and in the textbook will form the basis of the syllabus; material on the list but not covered in the textbook will require more teacher preparation.
6. To the revised list, add: standardized test skills, organization/study skills, and "advice". These elements will form the basis for "instant lessons", since all students need introduction or retraining in the first two items. "Advice" will vary by student group to include phone skills, etiquette, basic job skills, frank discussions about surviving high school and life, show and tell.
7. Beside each element of the list, add a projected time for the unit (introduction through unit evaluation) -- in most cases units span from 3 to 7 days -- many principals dislike units lasting 2 weeks or more.
8. Show the list to at least 2 experienced teachers and ask the principal to look it over also. Consider the advice from the experienced teachers, but follow the advice from the principal.
9. Establish a priority list for the items, based on standardized test objectives, preparation for major units, and common sense. For example, students need to understand the essay, quotation format, and library research before starting a research report. In chemistry, an understanding of laboratory equipment and safety is essential before beginning experiments. Inexperienced teachers often lump units together; this creates too many objectives within a unit lesson plan. Remember -- 4 to 6 objectives per unit. It is better for the students and easier for the teacher to break the learning into shorter units.
10. If the list seems too long, then temporarily remove the lesser priority items.
11. Items that are important but not making the priority list will be fitted into awkward spaces in the calendar.
12. The resulting list becomes the basis for the units and the syllabus.
Fit the curriculum into the calendar:
1. Take the itemized list and block the first unit into the first "free days" of teaching.
2. When that unit finishes, measure the next unit against the calendar. If it is a good match, then add it. If a delay of a day or so will better fit the unit, then put in a shorter, lower priority item and return to the priority list immediately afterwards. Whenever possible, avoid giving major tests during high stress weeks for the students -- major athletic events, pre/post-holidays. By keeping the emphasis on covering the high priority items first, the teacher delivers important information from the beginning and creates an atmosphere of "real work to be done in this class."
Using the semester plan:
1. After the semester plan is established, begin the unit lesson planning. If a particular unit takes longer than planned, then reduce or eliminate the next lower priority unit to ensure the high value units stay on schedule. If units finish more quickly, then insert more lower priority/enrichment units to fill the gap. Present these as "rewards" for good work.
2. Encourage middle and high school students to review the schedule with you. As schedule problems arise (such as state championships, problems with particular units), discuss schedule maintenance or re-establishment.
3. Make notes on the schedule (this worked well -- need fewer objectives - remember visitor on this week) for the next planning session.
Adapting for Particular needs:
1. Teachers with particular problems such as taking over a position mid-year, high-stakes testing, or rebuilding a reputation should probably consult administration more often. The best method is to forward a copy and request a consultation later in the week; this allows the administrator time to evaluate the plan before discussing it.
2. Teachers dealing with issues such as block scheduling, alternate class days, and multiple classrooms may need to add this information into the scheduling.
3. Teachers handling multiple grades and/or subjects should complete the planning process for every possible class, even if the planning is very rudimentary at the beginning of the semester.