Lesson Design: A View from the Student’s Seat


Yesterday I had coffee with two reading teacher friends.  Both women are creative, dedicated teachers who love to talk books. In the midst of the conversation, I shared a reading/writing workshop idea I am developing for the start of the year. I was brimming with creative ways to engage students in descriptive writing using mentor texts.

“Why are they writing this piece?” Sally asked.

I stopped and rattled off my objectives, “It’s a great opportunity for close reading, to explore figurative language, meaning through grammar, share summer experiences, etc.”

“But why should they care? What is THEIR purpose?” Sally asked again.

I realized that I was so focused on my bright ideas that I stopped looking at the all important question: Why should the students engage and invest in this effort?

Lesson planning must start with the WHY. In Shades of Meaning, Donna Santman talks about her early years of teaching as a swing from one skill instruction to another. Experience helped her design a framework that begins with guiding principles. For example, “The world is complex and we can use reading to develop the ability to see connections between seemingly contradictory ideas.”  Lesson planning must begin with the end goal — how will this work help the student grow as a reader, a thinker, a communicator? Will the student own and invest in the work?

To be honest, lesson planning in the summer doesn’t feel as personal because student faces don’t pop in my head as I plan — I am not thinking about how Maria or Camille or Marco will approach the work.  I can’t wait to attach faces to the work and make it more personal. But for now, I will start with guiding principles that give each student purpose. I will remember to always view things from the student’s seat.

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