This is a road map of some place in Italy; were I to use it, I’d get hopelessly lost, as I don’t speak Italian and know nothing of Italian geography. Lesson planning sometimes seems like following a road map, with so many roads to follow, and so many choices to make, that one ends up frustrated and confused, lost in Italy, when one really intended to be in India, instead.
So let’s say it’s a typical Saturday, and I am at the skatepark in the parents’ lounge while my child is in skater heaven, and I’ve got my bag of lesson planning materials, as usual. I take out my lesson plan book, and turn to a new week, and start filling in the times at the top of each column, and what we do when (journal time from 9:30 to 9:45, Gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:45, etc.). Then I grab the teacher’s guide for the reading curriculum that the district purchased for the pre-K teachers, and I see what I’m supposed to do each day.
Then I put on the brakes. According to my reading curriculum, I am supposed to introduce the new theme with a poster and a song. We read the poster to learn the song lyrics, and then we sing the song, and I have some questions to ask as well. Then there’s a large picture card with a picture that pertains to the theme, and I am supposed to show that to the class and read the questions on the back to spark a discussion. There’s also a book that introduces the theme. When I’m supposed to do this isn’t clear, because when I turn the page I am on week one, day one, which means the first Monday of the theme, so when was I going to fit in all the intro stuff? On Sunday night? Here on Monday morning I’m supposed to read a different poster — this one with a poem on it, play a cd with the theme’s song, do some phonemic awareness activities relating to the poem, and then read a big book (not forgetting the scripted questions which are provided for me!).
This, I suppose, is supposed to happen at our morning meeting. After that we’ll have centers time, and I will skip the centers time suggestions, as I always do, because they are pathetic. But wait — turn the page again and there’s MORE. There’s a brief lesson on our social skills curriculum, with yet another dumb song, and more discussion to conduct. There’s also a chart — shared writing — that we are supposed to do together. Oh yeah, and we are to learn the letter of the week, using the song book with the stupid songs about each letter of the alphabet. So I guess this stuff fits in after centers time, instead of story time? Or in addition to it?
Wait, we’re not done. There’s also an end of the day discussion (what did we learn today, boys and girls?) and another shared writing activity using some more chart paper. Argh.
So let’s say I am my usual self and I confidently read through all this stuff and select only what is most important, write it into my morning meeting plan, and skip all the other pointless junk. What I’ve selected doesn’t come first, though, because first we have to do calendar time. I have a way of doing calendar time that works well, that I’ve honed over the years, and as of two years ago, I also have a calendar time curriculum that I’m supposed to use. So now I have to grab that book, figure out which of the many worthwhile activities in it I’ll have time for (our particular reading curriculum is pretty mediocre, but the calendar curriculum is quite good), write that in, and then put in all the reading stuff (which poster shall I use? which book, if any, shall I read? phonemic awareness is really important, I can’t skip that, can I squeeze that in?). Wait, actually, first we have to learn the new letter of the week, because then I can sing the good morning song substituting the letter of the week for the first letter of each child’s name, which makes them all giggle and is a great way of learning that letter’s sound. So I write that in. Then comes calendar time, then reading.
Then I pick up my math curriculum to look at our new theme for math and realize that my morning meeting plan will take at least thirty minutes, and that is the maximum I can expect preschoolers to sit still on the carpet, and I have no time left for all the math I want to do. Because my math curriculum is pretty great. Now I flip my handy-dandy mechanical pencil around and do some judicious erasing, and fit in some math. So now I’m done with morning meeting for Monday, but that leaves not only the morning meetings for Tuesday through Friday, but also centers time each day (what will we offer at art and writing and math that fits with our themes?), and story time each day, and also our group activity time on the days when we don’t go to Gym.
And really, that isn’t all there is to think about. I have the Core Knowledge preschool curriculum and I love the part about what preschoolers should learn and know at the end of each month, so I try to consider that and figure out where I can fit some of that in. And for every theme I do I have a bulging file folder full of ideas and activities and art projects and worksheets that I have brought along with me to the skatepark, so I have to go through that and consider what I want to use. Plus I have a lot of really great curriculum guides for teachers about themes, phonemic awareness, circle time, science (yikes, can’t forget science!), writing, morning message, guided reading, brain games, and so on. So I have to go through all those and try to figure out what of all that stuff I want to use.
At this point my brain is getting really fried but there’s also our portfolio assessments to think about. My students still don’t all know their colors, so is there a way to add colors into the current theme? Some children are having trouble counting to five, so is there an activity I could plan for the math table during centers time to help those children? Also, one little boy knows every letter and every sound, so is there some beginning reading I could do with him one-on-one at centers time?
And — oh, yeah — there’s the whole question of the standards. What I really need to do is look at the early childhood standards for my state and make sure that we are covering the standards, and making progress so that by the end of the year, every child knows everything he or she is expected to know. So now I have to grab my standards and read them again to be sure I’m on the right track.
I don’t mean to say that I can’t do it. I can — and I do, every week. But for those of you reading this who are not teachers, it’s one heck of a lot harder than it looks.