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WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER


is a pivotal characteristic of both productive planning and sustainable teaching. After establishing learning goals, we can then think about an instructional unit as a whole, break down the unit into individual lessons, and finally consider what specific learning activities will help students move towards the goals. This last step is where things can get tricky; we must be sure that our decisions and actions lead our students to clearly defined goals, rather than just allowing us to wander aimlessly through the curriculum.


Throughout the planning process, we must also carefully consider how we will assess our students and gather data about their progress. The idea that assessments can help us cultivate a more sustainable approach to teaching may be initially counterintuitive, since as teachers we are well aware that assessments can be highly time-consuming to administer and to grade. However, pre-assessments and formative assessments in particular can lead us to work smarter because they allow us to determine what skills and knowledge students already have. Throughout the instructional sequence, we can use assessments to ascertain when students are productively moving towards learning goals and may benefit from enrichment activities, or when they are struggling and may benefit from re-teaching. The data we collect from assessments allow us to cater our instruction to our own students, resulting in more efficient and effective teaching and learning focused on clear targets.


Asking ourselves how teaching practices will help our students reach important learning goals can be a daunting and disheartening exercise because we may discover some long- favored practices do not align with our goals. In her own experience teaching middle school English, one of the authors utilized several favorite activities during a short story unit. Upon sharing her ideas with others in her department, a colleague noted that they seemed engaging but asked what the students were supposed to learn from the experiences. It was a simple and poignant question. It was also right on target: while both teacher and students enjoyed the activities, they did not align with any meaningful learning goals as currently implemented. Ultimately, some of the activities were modified to match up with articulated goals and others were abandoned. The results of these changes were revealing. Not only did students demonstrate greater success in relation to learning goals, but also they seemed to enjoy the modified activities at least as much as those implemented previously. And valuable instructional time was freed up that allowed the teacher to focus on alternative reading comprehension skills to aid struggling readers.


A great many teachers are drawn to the profession by a desire to seek creative ways to help students connect with content. Yet sometimes our itch to be creative obstructs our path towards powerful instruction. We spend planning and instructional time on activities that are clever or cutting edge but don’t ultimately result in better outcomes for students. Lemov


42 Virginia Educational Leadership Vol. 8 No. 1 Spring 2011


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