Musings and Mayhems

Lisa Murphy’s “Lesson Planning” Article

An article addressing lesson planning in child-centered, play-based classrooms. By Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey Inc.  I think this will morph into a longer document at some point.  But for now……

working title:  so whattya think about themes?

I am often asked about lesson planning and what I think about “theme” based teaching.  Many of you have heard my stock answer to this question.  Which quite truthfully is not an answer so much as a series of questions in response to your question!

1. First off, a statement: Theme based teaching is not inherently evil!  That being said, here come the questions:

2. What are the themes? 

3. Are they real, relevant and meaningful to the children?

4. Who chose them?

5. Can they be explored for as long as necessary or are they “over and done” on Friday come hell or high-water?

6. Can we change or modify them mid-stream them if they aren’t “working”?

As many of you know, a time-crunched conference setting doesn’t permit a lengthy discourse, so I have opted to gather my thoughts and present them here for your enjoyment.  I am working from the assumption that the group or program or school that might adopt such methodology is free from the limitations of such non-DAP expectations as scripted curriculum or pre-determined mandates that might be issued from a corporate office that is thousands of miles away from the children who are subjected to such disconnected decisions.

If it was up to me, and lesson plans were required in the program, this is the methodology I would suggest.  And although the writing style presented here might sound a bit formal, almost in an “employee handbook” sort of way, please know that I am always thinking ahead to our eventual Ooey Gooey® University and would never want to reinvent the wheel!  So here you go.  And, as always, feedback is welcomed.

Lesson Planning for TODDLERS and PRESCHOOLERS

SCRIPTED PRE-PREPARED LESSON PLANS …………………… EMERGENT CURRICULUM

To produce effective, long-term change we encourage a starting spot in or near the middle of this continuum.  Ideally, admin/owners would assess where each teacher is (individually) on this continuum at the time of employment and would then assist them in moving forward from that spot towards a full understanding and implementation of EMERGENT lesson planning.

SOME BASIC TOUGHTS:

  • It is expected that teachers understand that there are many ways for “lesson planning” to occur.  The ways in which lessons are planned (notebooks, single sheets, lesson plan books, etc.) are not monitored so much as the methodology used to implement the experiences they contain. 
  • It is expected that owners/admin provide a clear and consistent written definition of their expectations for all staff when it comes to creating program and generating lesson plans.  Including a definition of “emergent curriculum.”
  • When it comes to lesson planning, it is expected that teachers continue to move towards a full understanding of and EMERGENT style of lesson planning with coaching and assistance from peers, supervisors and administration. 
  • Admin reserves the right to have teachers go “back one step” if teachers self profess an ability to be EMERGENT from the get go but after some time show to not have an accurate or thorough understanding of the concept.
  • Admin reserves the right to terminate employment of a teacher who agrees to be working towards adopting an EMERGENT style but who continually shows an inability or unwillingness to actually do so.
  • Teachers engage in a systematic, consistent way of lesson planning that is individual in nature, yet organized enough to be reviewed and commented on (by admin) on a regular basis.
  • Teachers have access to various books and resources that assist them in creating strong program.  And while the program provides many resources, it is expected that teachers will independently seek out additional resources and will not rely solely on the resource and curriculum books maintained on site. 
  • Teachers don’t force their plans onto the children but instead, seek to strengthen their ability to develop strong “basic” plans (the “bones”) and then use ongoing observations to deepen, add to, modify, transform and extend these plans.
  • It is understood that many teachers need time to “detox” themselves from various non-DAP expectations from previous places of employment.  Time is given for this to happen.
  • Teachers can expect Admin to thoroughly define what is meant by “lesson planning” and all of the specifics this expectation entails. Including what areas (centers) the teachers are expected to plan for and what is expected to be planned for within those centers.
  • Teachers have the ability to make mid steam adjustments with their plans and can articulate justification for such modifications.  It is expected that such modifications be captured in the lesson plan book for future reference as well as personal/professional documentation of growth.
  • By becoming confident with the planning and implementation of the “bones” within their classroom it is expected that teachers will become proficient in their ability to use these observations in order to guide and assist them in developing their lesson plans. (= emergent curriculum)
  • It is expected that all teachers are able to articulate the intention and thought process behind the choices they make in the classroom.
  • Teachers are expected to be able to identify how time was made each day to create, move, sing, discuss, observe, read and, of course, play; as these identifiers are the “seven things” that constitute the foundation that supports the house of academics.  No efforts to “get them ready for school” will be successful if there is not a strong foundation in place.  These seven things, based on the work of Lisa Murphy, when done daily, with intention, within the context of real, meaningful experiences, provide the ultimate foundation for long term school success. Therefore, a strong preschool foundation is our definition of “getting them ready.”

So, what does this middle ground look like?  There are a couple of possible “starting spots” whether teachers are beginning or advanced in regard to actual classroom experience:

MIDDLE GROUND STARTING SPOT

OPTION 1: SOMEWHAT “THEME” BASED

  • Owner/Admin might provide a list of various choices of developmentally appropriate, meaningful and contextual themes or topics of investigation (Example: things that roll, bugs, nursery rhymes, etc.)
  • Teachers choose from them to plan for their specific class/group.
  • Teachers plan around them within the various curriculum areas that have been identified as the centers they are expected to generate plans for: Example: circle, art, sensory tubs, math, science, outdoor play, large motor games, etc. (“the bones”) while also realizing that an area of exploration (theme) might not “touch” all centers within the classroom.
  • Teachers are taught what they are expected to plan for within those areas (Example:  for circle: teachers are expected to plan for at least the following: have a good morning song, read a couple books, sing some songs, do a few fingerplays, see if anyone has any “news” to share, play a couple games, present something that will facilitate conversation/discussion, vote on something, have a wrap up song, end circle.)
  • Teachers are instructed and guided on how to effectively use their lesson plan books especially when it comes to linking their “theme” with the “bones.”
  • Teachers modify accordingly as the plans are implemented, also keeping track of modifications in their plan books for future reference.
  •  Teachers are permitted to extend the theme until the children have exhausted a meaningful exploration of it and, on the flipside, teachers are expected to pull back and reevaluate if something is not “working” or if a theme/topic they have selected for exploration is not going well.
  • Additionally, teachers are able to connect their plans to the “seven things” of creating, moving, singing, discussing, observing, reading and playing.

MIDDLE GROUND STARTING SPOT

OPTION 2: MORE “BONES” BASED

  • Curriculum areas that teachers are expected to plan for are identified: Example: circle, art, sensory tubs, math, science, outdoor play, large motor games, etc.  These are considered the “bones.”
  • Teachers are taught what they are expected to plan for within those areas (Example:  for circle: teachers are expected to plan for at least the following: have a good morning song, read a couple books, sing some songs, do a few fingerplays, see if anyone has any “news” to share, play a couple games, present something that will facilitate conversation/discussion, vote on something, have a wrap up song, end circle.)
  • Teachers are instructed and guided on how to effectively use their lesson plan books.
  • Teachers modify accordingly as the plans are implemented, also keeping track of modifications in their plan books for future reference.
  • Teachers are permitted to extend the theme until the children have exhausted a meaningful exploration of it and, on the flipside, teachers are expected to pull back and reevaluate if something is not “working” or if a theme/topic they have selected for exploration is not going well.
  • Additionally, teachers are able to connect their plans to the “seven things” of creating, moving, singing, discussing, observing, reading and playing.

AND THEN THE PROCESS OF BECOMING MORE EMERGENT BEGINS

With time, many teachers start to notice that they don’t “need” a theme any more. They still plan strong program, but it is not guided by a set theme per se.  Instead, they begin to be directed by their observations of the children in their care.  This means that the “bones” are always planned for, (we have an art projects, circle time, sensory tub, etc.)  but teacher is planning based on the children in front of him/her.  Not the week’s random theme.  Various in-depth projects of exploration might emerge out of this style of EMERGENT planning.  An outside observer will see various themes or areas of investigation being explored in an EMERGENT classroom, but the teacher has culled these topics from expressed and observed authentic areas of interest of the children; not from a list that was passed out in August of “the things we want to talk about this year.”

Why do we assume children want to learn something they have shown no interest in?  And, why do we assume they won’t show interest (eventually) in reading and writing and numbers?

So within the program/school/childcare center there might be a couple teachers still planning from the list of themes and some who are starting to move out of the middle and towards EMERGENT.  And, there might be a few teachers who appear to have no rhyme or reason to their planning.

They might need direct assistance that sounds like this:

“I am noticing that your children are playing with lots of trucks outside in the sandbox.  It seems like they just race to get out there for those materials!  It really is something they are interested in!  I am wondering what might happen if you spent more time exploring that interest.  What do you think that might look like in your room? Where could that go?”

“Well, we might investigate different kinds of trucks.”

“And what might that look like in your lesson planning?”

“Well, we might get different kinds of trucks for playing with, maybe read some books about trucks, see if someone has a family member that drives a big truck we could explore in the parking lot, we might do truck painting, maybe have small trucks to use in flour or sand in the sensory tub…”

And from this we capture her ideas in her lesson plan for the upcoming weeks.  And, we make room for one idea to springboard into the exploration of another idea that might or might not be related.  Meaning, let’s say that Uncle Dave has a huge big black shiny truck we get to climb on.  Then someone announces that their uncle drives an ambulance, and maybe we make a call and they come out with the ambulance for the children to explore for an hour and then maybe while sitting inside the ambulance we hear the siren, which leads to conversation about sirens and alarms which leads to discussion of the fire drill which leads to someone wanting to see what the inside of a fire truck looks like…..

(and when you give a mouse a cookie….)

And bingo.  We have modeled how to start thinking in an emergent way within a STRUCTURED FRAMEWORK that will allow the teacher to experience some measure of success with his lesson planning.

It is important to point out here that the person who assisted the teacher has offered scaffolding in an EMERGENT style.  So even though to the naked eye it might look like we are moving away from our goal of being EMERGENT, the scaffolding being offered has been in an emergent style.  The coach is modeling how to be EMERGENT even if the teacher himself does not see it yet.  And in the end, we brainstorm an overarching theme and some specific ways for that teacher to provide meaningful activity around that main topic for a couple weeks of lesson planning.  I will repeat, to an outsider looking in, this might appear to be a step backwards; a regression that is going the opposite of where we are headed!  But, much like a child who falls back 2 paces and then hurls himself up 4, it is a similar parallel.

In order to really understand the full range of what EMERGENT curriculum is all about teachers must have a starting spot.  It is only after teachers start to see that there is a formula (albeit not fully EMERGENT at this stage) of creating plans and start to see how they can be flexible within this formula and in their implementation of their plans and witness that it doesn’t result in chaos will teachers trust the process of implementing an EMERGENT curriculum.  Teachers learn to feel confident and successful as well as organized and prepared.  They learn to be preventative and to start anticipating events before they occur.  Then within the flow of this structure relaxation occurs.  They are able to say, “I have a handle on the day, I know what we are doing, I am prepared AND I am flexible.”   The children get into a routine.  The children also feel confident that there is structure and predictability to the day.  Behavior problems decrease.  Children are engaged.  Out of this comes a sense of FLOW and the teacher is able to start NOTICING and OBSERVING what is happening in the classroom.  Thus setting the stage for her to start seeing the opportunities for investigation that an EMERGENT curriculum style provides. 

When a teacher’s classroom experience has been limited to nothing other than meager attempts at controlling the chaos that reigns in classrooms containing bored and restless children (which is an outgrowth of no plan or program being in place) she will NOT be able to fully embrace the potential of EMERGENT curriculum.  She needs a starting spot.  By identifying the starting spot and allowing for her to gain confidence here we observe an organic, self-initiated shift towards adopting an EMERGENT style.  Teachers are not able to understand the importance of being able to be flexible and will not really know (or learn) how to effectively deviate from the plan if there has never been a plan in place.

I am a die-hard fan and advocate of emergent lesson planning.  I myself use this style and do not use “themes.”  I instead plan for the ”bones” of the day using our developed framework of making time every day to create, move, sing, discuss, observe, read and play.  This is the structure that directs my planning within an EMERGENT style.  This has developed after spending 20 or so years working in classrooms and with children in other various environments. 

And although finding oneself in an environment that encourages and supports EMERGENT curriculum lesson plans can be very liberating for those who have been required to follow scripted, meaningless, non-DAP pre-planned lessons; being expected to engage in EMERGENT curriculum planning (in it’s purest, truest form) can be confusing and amazingly overwhelming to teachers whose experience, training and education has been limited or, truthfully, is non-existent.

Thus our emphasis on meetings teachers where they are, identifying a mid-range “middle ground” and moving, together, towards EMERGENT where the “bones” are being planned for in a flexible style based on authentic and careful observation of the children’s ages, stages and organic interests.

A very small smattering of resources:

Emergent Curriculum by Elizabeth Jones

Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood Settings by Susan Stacey

The Art of Awareness: how observation can transform your teaching by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter

“PLANNING” FOR INFANTS

First, a definition:  for the sake of consistency in this document, “infant” means a child who is not yet 18 mos.  Also, I use the word “planning” only because it is the word that many who read this document are familiar with.  I think an expectation of formal lesson “planning” (in the sense that most use the word) is ridiculous for an infant room.  Babies need to fall in love with a primary caregiver and must learn that someone is absolutely crazy about each and every one of them; when a caregiver is too preoccupied with wondering, “how are we meeting a math standard?” we lose sight of what babies really need from us.  That being said, any formal plan or program implemented in an infant room needs to be specific to babies.  Not watered down toddler plans that the new infant (former preschool) teacher is recycling from last year. Infant programming needs to be grounded in the work and theories of many infant development experts including Magda Gerber, T. Barry Brazelton, Alice Honig, Abraham Maslow and Emmi Pikler.  The overarching goal in an infant room is creating an environment that ensures a secure attachment.  And while one cannot “plan” per se for this, we can make sure that we are setting the stage for it to occur.  This happens when we set up the room with intention, and when the infant room is stocked not only with materials appropriate to baby’s age and interest, but when admin and owners take the time to hire staff who possess the unique characteristics and disposition that an infant room demands.

Assuming that has happened, we frame lesson planning in the infant room in the context of the “seven things” as mentioned above:  creating, moving, singing, discussing, observing, reading and of course, playing.  While implementation of the “seven things” might direct the creation of lesson plans in the toddler and preschool rooms, formal lesson planning is not expected within the infant room.  There is a more casual approach where teachers use the frame of the seven things to create a space that ultimately leads to bonding and secure attachments.  There is time for babies to fall in love with their caregivers and with each other.  There is time for holding, singing, reading, cuddling, crawling, reaching and grasping.  And there is time for conversations and eye contact; which is no less important than playdough, puzzles and legos!

A very small smattering of resources:

Your Child at Play: Birth to One Year by Marilyn Segal

The Encyclopedia of Infant & Toddler Activities Eds: Kathy Charner & Charlie Clark

More Infant and Toddler Experiences by Fran Hast and Ann Hollyfield

Theories of Attachment: An introduction to Bowlby, Ainsworth, Gerber, Brazelton, Kennell and Klaus by Carol Garhart Mooney

Babies in the Rain by Jeff Johnson

Essential Touch by Frances Carlson

Secure Relationships, by Alice Sterling Honig

www.rie.org for more about Magda Gerber’s RIE approach

www.touchpoints.org for more about T. Berry Brazelton

© Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey Inc. January 17, 2011

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