Editor’s Note: Luann Lee is an NBCT teaching chemistry and AP/dual credit chemistry at Newberg High School in Oregon. She is a founding member and current president of Oregon Accomplished Teachers, Oregon’s National Board network. The views expressed in this blog are her own.
Most teachers write notes in lesson plans or course units about what worked and what didn’t work. It may be a single element that needs to be rewritten, modified, re-purposed, but sometimes, the whole plan just needs to be thrown out. A skilled, reflective practitioner has a system for making these lesson-planning decisions. This decision-making process has likely been through several upgrades as a teacher learns and grows. One experience in particular was pivotal in changing my planning, my analysis of student learning, and the reflection I needed to help all students be successful: National Board Certification.
How does the National Board process impact a teacher’s practice? Let’s look at habits of planning, analysis, and reflection I’ve noticed both in my own practice and while mentoring teachers at various stages in their careers.
Stage 1: Didn’t work. “Nobody got a good grade. Pitch this. Now what?” I made short, simple notes in my plan book and on hard copies of instructional materials. I chose a replacement lesson or assignment using the same criteria by which I’d selected the first. Content? Check. Align with district curriculum? Check. Learning targets? Check. Access to materials/manipulatives? Check. Reading level? Mostly check. Sometimes, I nailed it; sometimes, the new lesson nailed me.
Stage 2: Fix. “This would be okay if I changed the last 2 questions.” My notes sometimes included small, specific fixes or improvements for hard copy student handouts. I edited errors and terminology. I explained in more detail.
Stage 3: More practice. “They didn’t understand most of the problems. Need more practice.” Easy. I found more practice worksheets, with varied examples of problems. I worked more practice problems for the class. Students labored through the problems. Some of them learned new ways to game the problems for solutions, and did better on the next test.
Stage 4: Reteach. “Most students clearly didn’t understand. I need to reteach the concept.” I began to annotate my old lessons with slightly more meaningful statements about what specifically had not worked, and how to change the lesson delivery or the lesson as a whole. I would consult a special education teacher or ELL specialist for more strategies. Sometimes, the changes were effective.
Stage Four is essentially where I was after nine years in the profession. I was a pretty good teacher. My evaluations were excellent. My students worked hard. I had good relationships with students, staff, parents. I’d earned a master’s degree. The district Director of Instruction approached me about a new national certificate and asked me to “pilot” it in the district. I agreed. I did not know at the time, but the National Board Certification process would have more positive impact on my practice and my students’ learning than anything else I would do for the next two decades. The National Board process pushed me to the next levels.
Stage 5: Analysis of student work. “Three students need a new way to look at formula writing. All students could balance the equations, but not all could write the formulas correctly and use them in calculations.” I began to look at students more individually: what special strengths and challenges are unique to each one? What steps am I taking to ensure the learning environment is equitable and accessible for everyone? What alternative explanation will help Rosa calculate molar mass? What kind of collaborative work will help Jason learn dimensional analysis? What evidence do I have to show how well each student is growing and making progress toward our goals? When I had to actually provide clear, consistent, and convincing evidence that I was doing so, I had to push myself to think much more deeply about every aspect of my practice.
Stage 6: Deep reflection. “Overall, how effective was this instruction? How successful was the sequencing? Based on the evidence of student learning, what will I do differently next time? How useful are my assessments in demonstrating students’ mastery?” I realized that my instructional planning and unit development centered on specifically what was best for these particular students, in this time and setting. Whether I was editing a specific task for students or re-working a unit to better meet new standards, a focused, evidence-based rationale was now driving my instructional decisions.
Stage 7: Post-Certification. I began to use a document on my computer to track the process and learning that emerged from my reflections. The document started as a “Note To Self” memo after each lesson and morphed into detailed records about what worked and what didn’t for each unit or project. I now write in Evernote because it’s available on all my devices, and it’s shareable. I can easily include links to documents needing revision, and add photos of new ideas.
The foundation for generating these ideas is the process analysis and reflection I learned from pursuing my National Board Certification; that process has become an integrated, organic part of the planning I engage in to advance my students’ learning.