Worst lesson ever…

Twenty years…. That’s how long I have worked in education starting September 2018. After graduating a Teaching Social Studies 7-12 BA program at SUNY Fredonia’s school of education, I got my first job- at a rural school district of 240 kids K-12 that no longer exists near the Pennsylvania boarder with New York. Growing up in suburban Hamburg, near Buffalo, I was used to a graduating class that size. Now, I would be working with social studies students in 7th, 9th, 11th and 12th grade. Yikes. We were also in a block schedule as well- so this was really new to me. Blocking was never covered in college, so I had to learn on the fly. I was also teaching 4 different preparations, which in many suburban and urban districts would be against the contract! But in rural schools- you do what you have to in order to survive.

So the worst lesson I ever taught was in the days before the Teacher Evaluation Rubrics. Lessons were evaluated by what ever instrument the school administrator and the union determined would be a good fit. In my school it was very narrative, so it was a time/action running record of what happened in the class. So lets begin the reflection into a really bad lesson.

We had learned Madeline Hunter’s model of lesson planning in undergrad: Pre-opening, opening, Body, review, conclusion, assessment. This is a very structured form of a lesson plan, and for a new teacher, its especially good for keeping you on track. Except for one little problem. By February, I was overwhelmed with teaching four preps and six classes each day. It was too much. I wasn’t really lesson planning so much as identifying resources and listing them in the lesson plan sheet the district gave to us. Tired does not begin to describe the exhaustion I was feeling. Additionally, i had no mentor, as mine was out on medical leave, and many other teachers weren’t as forthcoming as they could have been- or I didn’t know they were offering help and I thought I was doing fine- after all, I was a member of the Education Honors society Kappa Delta Pi, and had graduated with Honors in Liberal Education and Summa Cum Laude honors on my degree. Arrogance and pride before the fall, I guess….

So- that Mid-winter day I showed two videos in my 72 minute block class to ninth graders in the Global Studies I class. These students were Regents track students who would need to take an end of Course exam next year while 10th graders. They would face 48 Multiple choice questions and three essays about the enduring themes of Global History. In our small district, every student was a Regents track student. Your section though was determined by when you attended Career and Technical Education at the local Board of Cooperative Education Services. Usually the AM section were the top kids in the school, and the PM section were kids who were not drawn to academic pursuits.  I cannot even remember what those two videos were on. I had given directions verbally to my students to “take notes as you watch the video.” That was it. I popped the video in and let it play. Occasionally, I’d stop the video, or make a comment about what the program was talking about but that was it.

Train wreck would be way too polite to describe how bad it was. So lets go through what I did wrong:

  1. I did not plan- what was my goal for the day? How did this lesson advance the student’s knowledge about the content and skills for an historian? How was this aligned with the expectations for students to be successful on the end of the course exam?
  2. I did not do well to know my class- First- they did not have the skills to “take notes” on a video- I had never cognitively coached them on the process. I never introduced how I wanted to take notes. I never gave them leading questions to make sure they were cued into the important stuff. Worst of all, I forgot learning 101- attention span. Most students have a 15 minute attention span. i had them watch 70 minutes of a pretty boring social studies history video.
  3. There was no accountability for learning- I did not see how they learned, what they learned, or what was so significant about their learning. There is a ton of research which indicates students need structure to help ensure that they are learning- and this was really passive.

So, If I had to do it again I would have:

  1. Clearly articulated my goals- which C3 and NYS standards does the lesson align to. Which part of the CCLS aligned Framework does this lesson tie to?
  2. Knowledge activation: What do you already know, and what do you want to know about the subject
  3. Different stations for learning:
    1. The first station: a small video about the subject
    2. The second station: a number of documents about the topic with guiding questions
    3. The third station: Music/Art/culture related to the topic
    4. A web based virtual tour of a museum or a virtual field trip to the site with observation questions.
  4. Last 10 minutes of class- devote time to having the students record their work in collaboration in teams by mixing up the station groups- Jig Saw method.
  5. Ask the students to develop a website, or podcast or other form of product.

So that was the worst lesson ever. I want to make sure no one ever does it again.

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