Helping students understand what they need from a text to be successful in writing.

by Laurie Carlton

Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


I believe that teachers need to transition the lesson plan into what I call the learning plan. Lesson plans, which all teachers are intimately familiar with, can sometimes cause us to adopt unrealistic assumptions about students. They don’t always permit us to look at assignments through the lens of the individual student; rather teachers assign lesson plans based on their knowledge of the subject.

A learning plan would consist of breaking down all of the underpinning skills that a child would need to know to have success on a final product.

If I were assigning a paper for English, I would:

-Choose the text, and understand what the text is screaming to be taught;

-Develop a focus question to ground your work and what you’re going to teach;

-Engage in a process I call a “test drive” – an adult exemplar of what your final product would look like;

-Take a deep look at what kinds of elements would need to be included to make this a good paper and outline those skills, and

-Match the student work against the checklist of elements and skills.

If the teacher detects deficiencies in for example, punctuation or better use of vocabulary, she can then respond to the student with added activities to compensate. For me, this is the difference between a lesson plan and a learning plan.



What I did well…

I’m really glad that I chose a text that was relatable to many people.  I think by choosing an elementary text, and anchoring that text to science, reading, and writing standards, the participants understood that this learning plan could be cross-curricular.  Additionally, I was super excited that the participants had great thoughts on the test drive.  During small discussions, the teachers were able to see the test drive not only as a “student exemplar”, but truly as a reflection of crafting purposeful lessons and strong teacher reflection.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

The idea of this planning far exceeds the basic backward design.  It requires teachers to determine what particular skills are needed by all students to have success on a final writing product.  While the video does not capture all of the steps, I wish that I would have asked the participants to develop an actual “mini-lesson” to address a need based on the test drive.  This might have sparked some great collaborative ideas.  Teacher love to steal great ideas!  And I would have been the first one writing down these ideas. 

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I want to help teachers understand that planning is hard – teaching is fun!  However, once you get a grasp on what it takes to develop a strong plan, you’ve got it.

About Laurie Carlton

Laurie Carlton is an educator whose love for teaching high school students has transformed into a love for working with teachers. She is an English...

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