Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Rule of Three

I had a committee meeting yesterday after school, and one of the teachers who teaches the same grade and subject with me is also on the committee. While waiting for the meeting to start, I lamented a lesson I was trying to plan for a day later this week. I described what I wanted to do, and she said, "Why don't I come by your room after this and we'll flesh it out together?" Obviously, we're following the same curriculum and calendar and standards, so we plan a lot of our lessons together anyway, but I was glad that this particular one with which I was struggling would get a much-needed fresh set of eyes on it.

She did just that. I had the lesson plan partially started on my laptop. With a marker and scrap paper (really!), we literally sketched out the guided practice section of the lesson together, and we got where we wanted to go. It took over an hour, but it's going to be a great lesson. To me, you could put all of the numbers in the world aside--having generous-spirited colleagues who will work with you to make a lesson that teachers across a grade can understand and kids can engage with is what really makes a terrific school.

Now for the Rule of Three. I have another colleague who served in the Army for a number of years before coming to education, and he told me once that in Army officer training, he was told about a Rule of Three when it comes to planning v. execution: You should never spend more than one-third of the time planning something that it will take to execute that same something. So, for a fifty-minute lesson, you should spend, what, 18.33 minutes planning? HAR HAR. And if you teach a double block, which should theoretically then take you about 33 minutes to plan, I find that planning one of those typically takes closer to two hours.

Some curriculum experts will tell you that this is precisely the problem: because we don't have a consistent curriculum with which teachers develop depth and expertise, we spend far too much time planning lessons and not enough time analyzing student work and adjusting instruction accordingly. I wonder, at times like this, if education doesn't need its own Rule of Three. We could have a curriculum with which expert teachers develop banks of rich, rigorous lessons, which individual teachers and schools could tailor without having to reinvent the wheel every year. Many individual teachers already do this, but this is only good for the kids if what they had to begin with was relatively good, and that's hardly a given.

Anyway, thanks to my gracious colleagues, who are always teaching me something interesting and new, or at least sitting with me until after five o'clock with a red marker and the back of an old grammar worksheet to get a lesson just right.
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