Thursday, December 10, 2009

Preparation H

I posted this article earlier this month at: Preparation H » Amazing Catechists

I teach 6th graders. That's my little catechetical world: 11 and 12 year-olds. In keeping with Amazing Catechists' mission statement, this column will be about "the how-to, hands-on, here's-what-worked-for-me stuff that will help our readers to bring their faith and morality lessons profoundly to life"....for 6th graders. Don't you think that's enough introduction? I do. Time to discuss what works in my classroom. Let's start at the beginning.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, "Let there be a lesson plan."

The most important part of class happens before class: Preparation. It doesn't have to be painful like the title of the article, but you must prepare. Physical preparation: you must write a lesson plan for every class. By that I mean before each class starts you have a written description of what you are going to cover. Reading the chapter a few times isn't enough. Having some key terms on a note card isn't enough. Reading from the textbook during class is a cop-out. And no fair filling time with something other than teaching! Movies are a time-filler! I know I'll get flak for this, but I believe craft projects and games are time-fillers in 6th grade as well. The kids are old enough to learn without diversions such as movies or projects. Besides the fact that they're old enough, every minute of available class time is precious and should never be lightly used. We all know how indifferently-trained in faith many of our charges are; part of fixing that is being prepared to teach nonstop for the whole class period. A lesson plan doesn't just make that possible: it makes it easy.

Now I know everyone has heard "make a lesson plan" before. And then the catechist reasonably thinks: yes, but how do I make a lesson plan? Well, let's look at one of my lesson plans and see how I do it.

First I should mention our textbook (which comes with a separate workbook). It's a good one with orthodox, substantial content. It's a textbook for a regular 180-day school year. Uh-oh. Catechism meets 30 times a year....see the problem? To try to use the textbook directly won't work timewise, yet the material must be covered. I don't know if other Religious Ed textbooks are purpose-written for 'Sunday Schoolers,' but isn't it nice to have a worst-case for an example?
The book has 31 chapters. Since not all chapters are created equal, I was able to leave one out without skipping anything important in the book's progression of concepts. I cover the remaining 30, one chapter per class period (more or less).

To begin a lesson plan, I read the chapter (this includes the workbook questions and the support material in the teacher's edition) twice in one sitting with a magic marker & a pencil. The pencil adds comments, the marker both highlights and crosses out. Then I do something else for a while, to get away from it. I won’t pick up the book again until the next day at the soonest.

For the third reading, I sit with a pencil and an 8.5 x 11 legal pad. I now have a pretty good sense of what I need to cover due to my prior notes & marks. It works out for me that one full page of a lesson plan takes me a full class period (50-55 minutes). If the chapter runs, say 4 pages, then each page in the textbook gets about 1/4 of my legal sheet. As I read the chapter, I am noting on the legal pad how I'll teach the material. I add/subtract from the textbook as I see fit. Sticking to a one-page limit forces me to budget what I expect to teach in the allotted time. I itemize the concepts, it keeps them separate: I don't want one huge paragraph. I should get to the bottom of the pad as I reach the end of the chapter.

Here's my class binder open to my plan for Chapter 17, the Last Supper. It's typical. The whole class will be run from what you see here, plus a Bible. Before we consider the notes on the right, look on the left. I've copied the chapter cheatsheet from my teacher's edition, and holepunched it on the right side so it will face my notes. I have noted the terms the chapter wants the kids to know, and pinked them. While roll is called at the start of class and kids settle in, I write these on the board. Also see the four lesson blocks at the bottom; I highlight critical ideas there, it helps me see how I'm doing time-wise. If I'm running behind, I'll usually drop something rather than go faster.

The little pink sheet is some stuff from the prior class I wanted to recap and questions I needed to answer.

Now to the right, The Lesson Plan (drumroll). I have 8 items on the page, it just worked out that way. Being a Last Supper class, Item 1 gives background for Item 2, which is the Passover. I will stick to the original document and ignore the extra notes and changes that I added over the years.

Item 1 notes read: Exodus- Prince of Egypt (Moses & Rameses) Hebrews-famine [Nile] slaves of Pharaoh (Great House), 9 plagues, last plague death of firstborn.

This doesn't tell me what to say, and it's not something I can read aloud. It's simply notes to guide my teaching. Part of this will be storytelling, some acting out, some questions the kids will answer, and no reading. It may vary in detail each year, that's fine. But look, how hard was that? (You answer, "Maybe not too hard.")

Item 2 covers the Passover itself and is a little different: Exodus 11 read, then 12, discuss each part in turn. Conclude unblemished Lamb sacrifice/ eat Lamb/ sprinkle blood/ perpetual institution/ free from slavery/ covenant sign blood
I read from my cheap Bible, but not the whole of the chapters, just parts I've highlighted. (the Bible is cheap so I don't feel bad marking it up.) And I don't read more than a verse or two without asking the kids a question, such as, "suppose pigs were on sale at the market...could the Hebrews just kill a pig instead of a lamb? No? Well, why not? Could they just put red paint on the doorposts? No? Why not?"

Item 4 notes treat the Bread of Life discourse: Jesus- John 6 discuss each part, whole chapter. Count times 'eat flesh.' Recall yesterday's miracle. Note Passover. Peter doesn't understand yet, either. Again, some reading, some storytelling, some acting out, some questions & answers.

Now let's jump ahead to Item 7, which is different.

Item 7 is a diagram that will go on the board, comparing the Passover meals of the Old and New Testaments. It's part textbook notes, and part my thinking. As each bit is added to the board, I ask the kids what goes next, or why two things such as the Lamb and Jesus are alike.

The other lesson plan items are similar enough to these in execution to not need examination. The point is that this and every other lesson plan gets me through the class period without using the textbook, without dead time, and with enough variety and some flexibility to keep things stimulating. It can be tough to write the first one, but it gets easy real fast. Yours may be nothing like mine, that's ok, right? (You answer, "Yes, it's ok!")

What matters is that you write one, and that it works for you and your children.

[Jesus said] "you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." 9 And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? Get started on your lesson plans!"


BTW, once you can compose a lesson plan in your head as well as on paper, you may do something much simpler, such as this; or this.


Michael said...

Probably been awhile since you've written this, but I was curious... in your notes you have some things separated by dashes and some in parenthesis. Do you have different reasons for those markings, do they signify something?

As a teacher (in Sunday schools classes, on Weds nights, etc) I tend to be more than a little bit ADD and I get to rambling on some parts and I totally skip some parts entirely. What advice would you give to someone with my proneness to these two mistakes?

kkollwitz said...

Hey, I remember you. You haven't posted at your blog in a long time.

Yes, parentheses enclose something that I'll touch on if I feel ok about time; but otherwise it's something I'll be covering in a future class.

In my class the kids and I bounce around like crazy, and I like to go sideways as much as up and down on the lesson plan. But I can tell if I'm behind or ahead by seeing where I am on my single-sheet lesson plan. Then I know if I can digress or need to speed up. E.g., if I'm 2/3 of the way down the sheet and 3/4 done with class time, I need to speed up.

kkollwitz said...

BTW, I don't regard rambling or skipping stuff as necessarily bad; it depends on the kids and the value of their digressions. You might consider getting a recorder ( and listening to your classes. It's an easy way to make sure you cover anything critical you missed in the prior class.