What do we want all students to know and be able to do?

Last week I mentioned that I would be in class this weekend for my PhD program. In one of those classes I had an experience that really hit home when I started thinking about how we deliver lessons to our students.  Throughout the weekend I had two different classes, one of those is being taught by an experienced professor who was added as the result of a teacher change very recently.  She was open and honest with us about that fact and acknowledged that the slides, information, and assignments she was using came from the previous teachers of this course.  While she is experienced, transparent, and very well-intentioned, it was disappointingly obvious that she wasn’t well-prepared to engage us as learners this past weekend.  

As I reflected on this disappointment, I began to think about our students and how they are experiencing learning.  I’m thankful to know that so many of you are going above and beyond to adapt, modify, or altogether replace some of the “stock” lessons that are provided to you by whichever curriculum tools you are drawing on.  The worst thing we can do for our students is to regularly assume that they fit into whatever box the developer of that curriculum tool had in mind when they created it!  

You know your students, or at least you’re getting to know them, and as professionals you have the opportunity to ensure that their needs are being met on a regular basis.  I’m not suggesting that you (or my professor) should go back and completely rewrite curriculum.  However, it is crucial that as educators we remain mindful of the fact that our students are not all the same.  Your class isn’t the same as a class in another state, city, or even RUSD school.  In all reality, your class isn’t even the same as the one nextdoor to you.  So, whether you’re planning, teaching, or reflecting on a lesson, it is important to remember that you have the professional privilege (responsibility even) to adapt, adjust, and modify as needed. 

I believe that as educators we must be deeply familiar with the four critical questions made popular by Rick DuFour:

  1. What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if they learn it?
  3. How will we respond when some students do not learn?
  4. How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?

When you can honestly answer these four questions in a clear and detailed fashion, then you will know you’ve gotten to the point of truly knowing and understanding the best way to reach your students.  Unfortunately, it was painfully obvious throughout the course of my weekend of classes that our professor wasn’t even able to answer question number one.  No matter how experienced, well-intentioned, and transparent she was with us, she was still essentially a substitute teacher reading slides.  

We have to start with question number one.  If we can’t clearly articulate what we want all students to know and be able to do then we are just wasting time.  As you meet with your teams to plan and prepare your lessons, start with question number one.  Every lesson should have an objective, it should be tied to a standard (Superhero!), and you should have a plan for how you’re going to ensure that the objective is reached in each and every lesson.

Now, with all of that being said, everyone is going to have a bad day or a bad lesson (that’s totally fine!!)  Unfortunately for me, my professor had a bad lesson that lasted all weekend and one weekend is about 25% of our instructional time for the semester…yikes!  Give yourself permission to take risks, try new things, have lessons that don’t work out, and make mistakes.  Work with your teams, seek support from coaches, APs, me, and others.  Work smarter, not harder!  Above all, start with question one! 

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