The Beginning Stages of Planning for a New School Year

It's almost the end of June.  My summer school class has dwindled to just a few students finishing up their work recovering a lost English credit. My brain is creeping off to the next school year.  Where do I begin?

I will be teaching Literacy Seminar again next year - three  sections.  I am also going to teach one section of an 11th grade reading/writing lab (which is remediation and support for reading and writing).  Finally, I'll have my first group of AVID 9th graders.  I am very excited about the variety.  I love my reading kids and I'm always thinking about how to improve that class.  I've had many of the 11th graders in Lit Seminar, so I need to think about how that class can best meet students' needs where they are now.  And then there is AVID - students who have made a decision to learn how to be more effective in school and who have a goal to go to college someday.  This voluntary piece is the opposite of reading class - a class of kids who have chosen to be there.  Exciting!  Luckily I also have a wealth of human and material resources to help me with that.

Balancing three different classes will require organization and time, so I'm starting now.  Step one:  create overview calendars and establish themes for first semester.

By reflecting over last year's plan book (I use a 3-ring binder with my own printed sheets. This gives me plenty of room to attach more paper), I am looking first at big ideas that worked and those that need refining.  

These big ideas will be what my PLC focuses on together.  Here is my first draft list, slightly tweaked from last year:
  • Unit 1:  Developing Reading Habits and Becoming a Strategic Reader  (August-September)
  • Unit 2:  Narrative Reading and Writing (October – November)
  • Unit 3:  Final Reflection:  Our Literacy Progress (December)
Within each of these themes there is plenty of room for individualizing our instruction to meet the needs of our students - through time, choice of activities and lessons, assessments, and materials.  Just like choice is so important to students with books and writing topics, I strongly believe teachers within a PLC (especially teachers who work with struggling students) need autonomy to determine the best pace and materials to use with their students.  This can be done within a framework of common themes and goals.  

Tips to Get Started:
1.  Create overview calendar templates.  I made mine a month at a glance and I made one for each month first semester.  I use Publisher because I want to make the calendar fit my needs personally.   I also make them one-sided so I can write notes on each month as I solidify objectives, activities, and materials.

2.  Review last year's themes for each semester.  Each year I try to take notes and revise as I go through each unit during the school year.  I've gotten better about this over the past few years, but every year, I wish I was more detailed when I begin planning for the next year.  Still, there is a goldmine in my lesson plan book - sequences that worked or didn't, books I talked about, pacing.  As I reread, I'll pull out things to keep, discard, and things to improve.

3.  Choose your themes and focus for each theme for this year.  These may stay the same from year to year, or you may find that you need to change them to fit students' learning needs best.  Last year, narrative stretched across all first semester.  We started in independent books and planned to go into literature circles in October, but found our kids were not ready.  They really needed all semester to establish their engagement, stamina and reflection over books. So the unit stretched on and on and on.  We ended up weaving a lot of strategy work in kind of piece-meal during this unit.  This year, we will be more intentional by planning a unit up front specifically focused on the habits of readers and how to be strategic.  There is a good chance our time lines will be revised - the first unit may take longer than I'm now thinking, but that is OK.  Having a map of big ideas allows for a plan and flexibility.

These three steps can be done on your own prior to meeting with your team.  With a strong sense of direction from your overview, you can then begin choosing materials and planning lessons for the beginning of the year.  Without an overview, your purpose, focus and goals get lost.  We will revisit our themes over and over to make sure we are progressing.  These will also be the foundation of our assessments.

Next I'll be thinking about planning overviews for the two courses I have not previously taught.  I'll begin the same way for each of them, but may need input from others who've taught the courses to help me establish my themes.

I'd love to hear from others on early planning.  What do you do to begin preparing for the school year?


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