Let’s begin with a math problem:
56 + 4 = 1
Mathematically, this is a mistake, but it accurately reflects the break-down of the content of one of the most popular math programs, so let’s take a deeper look.
56 is the number of supplementary resources for one lesson, including online links, hands-on activities, supporting work from previous grades, extra workbook pages, and more. 4 is the number of objectives presented in this particular lesson, each with corresponding problems under colorful headlines and pictures of adorable children. Even more, the expectation is that all four objectives can be taught using both conceptual and procedural strategies within a 45-minute block.
These two values (56 and 4) together are supposed to equate to the sum of 1: one (1) clear, concrete lesson in which all students are successful.
This is a lot to take in. Most teachers are already balancing teaching multiple subjects across multiple grades. With multiple classes of, on average, 26 diverse children, alongside the innumerate demanding aspects of being an educator, trying to dissect such an overwhelming product can be discouraging to teachers.
This is how textbooks and teacher’s guides fail teachers: by not providing them with the clear roadmap they need to make sense of each lesson. At the Partnership Schools, we believe that teachers can be empowered by using just such a clear roadmap. The roadmap we use with our teachers provides them a lens through which they can better focus their planning. Our roadmap has evolved over the past year, through continued teacher and leader feedback and input, but there remains one essential tenet: sharing suggested “aims” sequences. That is to say, we have taken the guesswork out of “56+4” and tried to communicate, clearly and succinctly, what content and skills students need to learn each day.
Grade 4 Aims Sequence – an example of the Aims Sequences the author uses with her teachers.
Providing this simple tool has significantly boosted our teachers’ confidence in planning and in execution of more narrowly focused lessons. Instead of flipping through a dozen pages with an infinite number of choices of content, teachers zoom in and can prioritize the strategy, the questions, and the activities that support mastery. In doing this, the question has changed from, “What do I teach?” to “How do I teach this?”
Though given aims, teachers still have the freedom to adapt or revise based on the needs of their class. We also create pacing guides for the year that are updated monthly to incorporate teachers’ input (you’ll see the example I attached to this post is still awaiting teacher input for March and April). Since they have a better picture of the direction the unit is going, teachers can make decisions accordingly. We’ve noticed that most of our teachers have welcomed the aims. The guesswork of the teacher’s guide has dissipated and they have the time to invest more in the meat of the lesson. Now we find that teachers say to us, “all I needed to know was where this train was headed; now that I know, I can prepare better lessons.” Now, when teachers use the textbook, they are not overwhelmed with the amount of material and are not distracted by the lack of coherence; they are equipped with all the tools necessary to build really productive lessons.
We’ve also seen a boost in student achievement, giving teachers continued confidence that what they’re doing truly works. Allowing our teachers to prepare the “how” more deeply than the “what” has given them the tools they need to make sense of the content, thereby giving them the freedom to do what they do best: teach.