“Education should consist of a series of enchantments, each raising the individual to a higher level of awareness, understanding, & kinship with all living things.” Anonymous
Creating a Learning Plan
There are many learning plan styles. The five step and seven step are the most well known. Use a planning system that works for you. A learning plan is a tool for you to organize and prepare activities for the classes you teach. A learning plan is a convenient way to share effective learnings with other teachers. The format that helps you to best present an activity to your students is the best learning plan for you. Try different types of learning plans to see which one enables you to teach your best.
I developed the learning plan form in this book. This learning plan has ten steps. Using this form may initially take more effort than using other learning plans, as it takes into consideration learning, assessment, and accommodation for diversity. However, when you have all your relevant information in one place at one time, it will be far easier for everyone, including you, to enjoy the activity fully.
Space for the recommendation of a teacher to child ratio, IV., (shown 1: 3, or 1: 10 et cetera) has been added. The ratio always indicates the teacher as “1” to the number of children for whom that teacher is responsible. Let’s say there is a classroom with a teacher, an assistant teacher, a paraprofessional aide and fifteen children. The ratio would not be three to fifteen but one to five (1:5). When you consider presenting a very low ratio activity, like carpentry, it requires a 1:1 or 1: 2 ratio. If your daily teacher to student ratio is 1: 7, you would then need to bring in at least three adult volunteers to present carpentry. Knowing the number of adult volunteers that are needed for an activity before the day of presentation is a very important part of preparing for a successful activity.
Never leave the children in the unsupervised care of volunteers.
Parts V and VI (targeted areas of learning and evaluation) have been added so that an educator may consider which presentation of the learning will best communicate the targeted area they have chosen and also, how to evaluate the learning associated with the activity. Knowing the desired learning for the activities you present will empower you as an educator. “Why is your class doing this?” is a perfectly legitimate question, deserving a thoughtful response. For most parents and school administrators, “Keeping the children busy” is not an acceptable answer.
There are five general learning areas, or domains: emotional development, social development, cognitive development, physical development, and creative expression. This book is primarily aimed at cognitive, or intellectual, learning. Nearly all activities presented in a preschool or primary school classroom touch more than one of the domains of learning. For example, a math patterning activity involving stringing colored macaroni also involves eye-hand coordination and the fine motor skill of stringing the pasta. The socialization skill of following directions would also be included. When more than one child is working on a project, the socialization skills of sharing and cooperation are added. You do not need to write out every area of learning an activity could potentially offer to the children. Identify the targeted areas of learning, those you plan to emphasize, and in which you plan to evaluate the children's growth.
When writing out a targeted area of learning, break the general learning areas down specifically, such as: cognitive (domain): math (learning area): patterning (specific activity). By identifying the domain (cognitive), the curricular area (math), and the skill (patterning) you will have definitive structure for planning, presentation, and evaluation. Should you need to discuss the activity or evaluation with an administrator or a parent, you will have resources at your finger tips to speak with confidence.
“Why did you give my child a “D”?” is another question you should be prepared to address as well. Contrary to popular misconception, evaluation in education is not written in concrete. It is not hard and fast, and not objective. Evaluation is done by human educators, complete with opinions, judgments, preconceived ideas, and misconceptions. Evaluation therefore has a good degree of subjectivity to it. With training and experience, we hope that the teacher’s subjective judgment becomes educated subjective judgment.
Creating a rubric prior to presenting your activity will allow you to structure your subjective assessment so that it can be consistent, and as objective as possible. A rubric is a step chart describing your expectations of your learners for an activity. None the less, understand as you evaluate, that your education and growing experience does give you the right to evaluate learning. People evaluate all the time. You get to put your evaluations on a report card. Evaluate responsibly.
Another reason to evaluate young children’s learning is to help plan curriculum to match learning levels and to place children in appropriate academic environments. If all the children whip through the activities you present, you need to offer material closer to their academic level. If one or two are skating through, perhaps even bored, they might need a more challenging environment. On the other hand, if your class is struggling with the materials you present, consider breaking the curriculum down into more steps, or find a curriculum more suitable for the students’ level of learning. If most of the class can handle the work, but one child is consistently over his / her head, it may be time to consider putting the child into a class closer to his / her learning level or possibly think about having the child evaluated for special needs.
For some parents discussing the possibility that their child may have special needs is difficult. They may interpret your concerns for their child as a reflection upon them as parents, as genetic material. Or they may fear that their child will be stigmatized by being identified as having special needs. You can help parents understand that identifying a child’s special learning needs as early as possible will help improve their child’s fit into the regular class. In fact, you can draw a parallel between going to a tailor, and fitting a garment to offering a child special services early in their learning career. If you take a little of the structure of the curriculum in here, and let it out somewhere else, the educational fit will be better. Their child will be much more likely to get good use and wear from his / her education. Most important of all, with special support in place, the child will feel better about where he or she is in the process of learning, and about him / herself as a person as well.
There are so many wonderful support systems, medications, and strategies for children with special needs that by mid to late teens or early adulthood, often behavioral evidence of the special need is undetectable. Even if not, with ongoing support, a child with special needs will internalize healthy coping mechanisms which will empower him / her to have a meaningful life.
Part IX considers how best to include all children. Accommodating for human diversity is both an educational courtesy, and in the case of children with special needs, a federal law. There is a list of books devoted to the subject of accommodation for special needs in Appendix B. Some basic suggestions for changes to academic activities are discussed in the chapter on accommodation, but the best advice is to know your students. Each child in your class is a unique individual. As you prepare your curriculum, think of all the children in your class. The chances for a successful outcome for your project will increase when you plan it for the students in your class. As you plan, just taking into consideration that a child is painfully shy or utterly without fear (neither of which is an identified learning disability on its own), might have a huge impact on the learning that either of those students might gain from participating.
When you plan, be mindful of the people you are teaching.
For example, a child with symptoms of unmedicated ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) will need close supervision. You may need to lower the ratio in your class often. ADHD children have very high energy, poor impulse control, are often quite verbal, and need constant support to stay on task. You may need to break down directions and repeat them frequently. Ask the child to repeat instructions back to you. Catch the child being good. People respond to praise better than to criticism or correction. Praise can be a very high motivator. Praise will result in the child’s increased efforts. There is a good chance an ADHD child is receiving more criticism than praise. Your praise could be an opening for a partnership. The child will want to continue to please you, and you can help the child learn to internalize behavior management. While you plan your curriculum, be mindful of this child’s needs. By possibly soliciting parent volunteers, increasing the amount of time you allot for activities, and allowing extra moments to interact with this child individually, you will create a better experience for everyone in the class.
No matter what grade level you teach, organizing the activities for the class will also help you to organize your thoughts. It also clarifies the objectives you have for that particular learning with that particular group of people. Even a simple activity like the Hokey Pokey, for example, could be presented with an emphasis on creating a community and socialization OR to have a focus on teaching laterality (right from left). Knowing what result you wish to produce helps you decide on your presentation of any given learning.
Creating a learning plan in advance also helps you organize materials, and brings the learning to the front of your thoughts. If you should happen to see a book or another activity that would further enhance the learning, you can then incorporate it into your plans. A learning plan can also be an outline for a mental rehearsal of a learning.
As a student teacher, you will be required to present your learning plans in writing.
These are the basic ideas that should be included in your learning plans:
I. Name of activity
II. Age or grade level for which activity is suitable
III. Date of Presentation
IV. Teacher to Student Ratio
Always shown as 1 (teacher) to number of children assigned to 1 teacher (1: 7 or 1:10), never as 2 (teachers) : 20 (children).
V. Target Areas of Learning / Goals and Objectives:
On which learning areas do you choose to focus the learning? Not all areas of learning will be covered in every learning. The goals/learning areas are directly related to evaluation. If you choose a particular target area / skill, how do you assess a child’s developing skill in that area? Consider this when choosing learning areas. There are lists of learning areas in the “Targeted Areas of Learning” chapter. Use that chapter as a reference.
a. Social Development: creating relationships, developing social skills, cooperative learning, sharing, becoming a community
b. Emotional Development: expressing feelings in an acceptable way, building self-esteem, stress relief, personal behavior management skills
c. Cognitive Development: thinking and reasoning skills; language and literacy; problem solving skills; independent and divergent thinking
d. Physical Development: fine and gross motor skills; sensory experience; eye-hand coordination; balance; auditory and visual discrimination
e. Creative Expression: verbal / non-verbal expression: art, music, dance
VI. Evaluation Rubric:
This is the measure you use to evaluate a student’s progress in any given activity. The rubric form is often used if you need to assign a numerical / letter grade to the child’s growth in any activity. The best known rubric form is the “A, B, C, D, F”, the five levels of achievement format (which also uses I for incomplete). “E (excellent), S (satisfactory), U (unsatisfactory)” using three levels and “ 4, 3, 2 , 1” using four levels are other formats. If report cards or evaluation forms are sent home, the school district or administrators choose the form in which children are evaluated. The teacher’s job is to put that form into use, evaluating the student’s progress in any learning area as it relates to the standards set by the teacher or the administrator.
Particularly at the preschool level, teachers and parents might respond, “Why should preschool children’s work be evaluated? They are only in preschool.” Certainly it is less crucial to evaluate young children’s academic performance. In preschool the importance of evaluation is related to placement in the appropriate group or class, identifying cognitive, socio-emotional, and creative gifts, areas of weakness, possible special needs, and even learning styles. All this information comes from carefully observing and evaluating the children’s progress.
A teacher can help identify an area in which a child needs additional support. That identification and additional early support might make a life changing difference for the child relating to his or her future success in school. When support strategies are constructed at an early age, children may better learn to cope with differences in their individual learning styles, and the ever increasing demands upon young people academically.
When children receive needed support in learning at an early age, they feel better about themselves. For children who are getting additional support in certain areas of learning, there can be a marked reduction in the self esteem shattering feelings of being less capable or less intelligent than their peers. Used properly, evaluation can be an instrument to support identification of need and in support of learning, and to nurture a positive self image and healthy self esteem.
A rubric is the measurement instrument, or standards, that you as the teacher use to evaluate growth in the learning areas targeted by any given activity. For example, if you bring a rabbit into the class to enhance nurturing behaviors in the children, what behavioral landmarks would you look for to evaluate if having the rabbit is actually producing the desired behavioral goals in the children?
You will want to identify at least three levels of growth for each targeted area of learning (I recommend four).
Target area of learning:
nurturing behaviors: gentleness w/small animals
4. Spontaneously gentle with class rabbit
3. Needs a few reminders to be gentle with the class rabbit
2. Needs constant reminders to be gentle with the class rabbit
1. Is not gentle with class rabbit
You can use a spreadsheet or list rubric format. In the appendix, there is a spreadsheet rubric form containing the reproducible Learning plan forms. Try both the list and spreadsheet forms to see what works best for you as an assessment tool.
VII. Materials and Preparation:
This section needs to be easy to read. Presenting it in a list form will make it easier to repeat / share your activity. Included in this section should be three lists:
a. materials needed
b. space required
c. advance preparation and set up required
A list of steps makes this easier to understand. The procedures list is your plan of actions with the children. Include what the volunteers will be doing, and when. In the case of volunteers, if it is your activity, you need to be in charge. You need to act as the coordinator of the volunteers, and the activity.
a. description of activity: steps to actually do the activity in class
b. major ideas to bring up in the Learning
c. closure (ending the activity); discussion of major relevant learning points
d. clean up (involving children in the clean up of an activity teaches many concepts as well: responsibility for one’s own environment; how to clean up different kinds of mess; a sense of community).
IX. Accommodations (for children with diverse learning needs):
By federal law children with special needs are to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). When you plan an activity you need to take into consideration the adaptations you can make to the activity so that a child with special needs can participate fully in your activity. Sometimes creating accommodations will take much thought, creativity, and preparation on your part. For a child in a wheel chair, the aisles would have to be wider and height of the tables will need to be adjusted. A child with ADD would need to be placed near the teacher or paraprofessional, the bulletin boards would need to be undistracting. An ADD child should not be placed near a window or a door as the outside world can be a tempting distraction for a person with that disability.
X. Applicable Framework/Foundation Standards: This book is based upon the framework standards for the state of California. Other state framework standards are similar. The goal of these standards is to determine the competency level expected of a student at the end of the academic year. For example, when a student has completed Kindergarten, it is expected that this student will be able to “Identify & sort common words in basic categories (e.g. colors, shapes, foods)” [Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools - Kindergarten English-Language Arts Content Standards, Vocabulary and Concept Development 1.17]
XI. Learning Plan Evaluation:
a. How well did the Learning work? Great responses? Improvements needed?
b. Possible follow up activities
c. Aspects of the Learning that are especially effective/not effective.
d. Other notes
©Renee Berg & Karen Wirth; Practical Kindergarten: An Essential Guide to Hands-On Learning; 2005