Planning Faster

As I told a panel of aspiring student teachers a little while ago, eventually you can plan 3 completely different 90 minute blocks in about 20 minutes.

This is from Jonathan Claydon’s recent blog post. It stuck with me, and got me wondering, how is it that I can plan so quickly today when just a few years ago I would regularly sink two hours into a 55-minute lesson? I’m not quite as fast as Jonathan, but I’m not too far behind, and my PPMoCT (Prep Per Minute of Class Time) has dropped pretty dramatically. Here are some things that came to mind:

  • I typeset problems faster. Way faster.
  • I typeset less. I went from needing 100% of the math that happens to be on paper, in packet form, for every student, to somewhere around 50%. Paper is important, but there’s lots that can happen without it.
  • I focus more on quality than quantity. Instead of writing 50 bad to mediocre problems for students to practice, I’m more likely to write 3-10 thoughtful ones that take students longer, require more thinking, and create more fodder for discussion.
  • I pull from resources I’ve created before. And even when I teach a new topic, I have structures I’ve used that I can quickly adapt to what makes sense for that concept.
  • Batch process — I do things in chunks. I create the homework for a week all in one go, plan multiple classes in one sprint, or spend an hour before the year typesetting warmups so that doesn’t become a daily task.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Rather than putting together beautiful pages for students to take notes on or carefully formatting problems with matching fonts, I make ample use of the snipping tool and put ugly handouts in front of students and focus on my teaching moves, rather than preparing the perfect materials.

Thinking through all this time I’m saving on prep makes me think about what I spend that time doing. A good chunk of it is spent not doing work, which I am happy with and hope to continue. In terms of teaching, I think the best thing I do with my time is to look at student work, and use that work to figure out how to make tomorrow’s class a little better, and a little more responsive to the actual humans that walk in the door. I think some useful next steps for me are to find more and more efficient ways to do that — to explore student thinking as the basis for what I do in class each day.

2 thoughts on “Planning Faster

  1. GW

    When you say “plan a lesson”…are you talking from scratch or using materials from previous years? I get that if you have lesson plans already made from a previous year, you can leverage the work you’ve already done and just make tweaks as needed–particularly if you already feel pretty good about how the lesson went previously.

    If we’re talking from “scratch”, then color me impressed and all ears to learn more about your strategies. I feel like I still spend a good deal of time tinkering with lessons from previous years and mentally re-engaging with the material to remind myself the key points, common errors, etc, that I want to emphasize. However, I still don’t feel like I really plan thoroughly enough. After reading through the book “Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions”, I realize that I need to spend more time planning leveraging/robust problems, anticipating student responses, selecting and sequencing student results to be shared and initiating productive discussions around those results. While this doesn’t have to be an everyday event, each class has one 90-minute block period per week that I could use to implement these types of lessons. I find it difficult to imagine that I could accomplish all of the planning that I would like in one of those 90 minute block classes (much less three) in the 20-minute time period referenced in your quote.

    I admit, I am a slave to having my lessons look uniform and aesthetically pleasing. I am not the most efficient when it comes to formatting my lessons and assignments. It’s a disease, what can I say? Here are some questions I have for you…

    I am trying to bring a hook into each of my lessons. “Begin each lesson with a question” is a mantra that I have tried to take to heart. (See Ted Talk by Dan Finkel). Do you try to do this and if so, do you find that you are able to think of ways to pique student interest in a topic relatively easily?
    How much time do you spend thinking about your questioning and student responses? I find that I often don’t spend enough time thinking through questioning for student discussions and as a result, the classroom dialog leaves a little (or a lot) to be desired. Sometimes I luck out because some of my stronger students say the “right” things. Other times, the conversation falls flat or one student carries on in a manner that is incomprehensible to the other students. I find that planning for the unexpected is one of the more challenging aspects of class preparation. Are classroom discussions something that you try to incorporate regularly and if so, how much time do you spend thinking about the questioning and how to respond to various student remarks?

    Thank you!

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Good questions! I think 20 minutes is pretty fast, but I’m definitely way faster both adapting lessons (my first year of teaching I had some curriculum handed down to me from the previous teacher, so I was adapting lessons then as well) and planning lessons from scratch.

      In terms of questions, I think of questions more on a moment-by-moment basis. I don’t feel like I need to have one great question that drives a full lesson if there are a few places in the lesson where I have smaller questions that feel compelling for students and get them thinking and wondering about math. It can feel contrived to me to try and shoehorn a whole lesson into a single question, but questions are still really important and I try to find great questions for each part of my lesson. I do think the type of planning you’re talking about is so important, and I definitely try to think about that, but also do much more on the fly than I should. Beyond planning questions, I find anticipating student thinking so I know what I’m looking for, and looking at previous student work so I know what to expect, to be really helpful in setting up meaningful discussions.


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