Teaching is a lonely activity. Once you are inside your classroom, every choice you make influences to the type of learning (and opportunities) you are offering to your students. With time, some decisions become easier, but others never go away: What can I do to help every student learn as well as possible? Is there a better way of engaging my students? What else could I have done to help this struggling student?
As a literacy coach, I often feel that the resources I create for my students could be useful outside my classroom for others students. That's why I decided to become a seller on both TES and Teachers Pay Teachers, two of the main marketplaces for teachers in the US.
When developing lessons and units, I always aim to create work that matters to teachers, easing their strenuous routines and sharing the solutions I found to real-world challenges I've had. I develop lessons and activities I would like to buy. What I learned, however, is that to have a resource that suits teachers' needs, I have to keep my eyes on students' needs.
A hallmark of student-centered lessons is student engagement. If a lesson claims to be student-centered, it should be designed so students want to participate. It should also help the teacher. These lessons should also provide enough informal assessment data for the teacher to make instructional decisions both on the spot and down the line.
Here are some teaching tips to help you create similar student-centered lessons for sale and for use in your classroom:
1. Create student-centered materials with stations
Utilize stations to teach new content and to review content previously taught. Stations allow teachers to cover many dimensions of a topic at one time, giving students freedom in their learning as they rotate with their group and also allowing for differentiation.
For example, I set up three stations for students to learn about making inferences. The stations included poetry, commercials and photos. Each student received a station packet with guiding questions to record their answers. Students at this point had not learned the word "inference" yet. Little by little, they were introduced to the concept, without learning the actual word. When it came time to do the inference lesson, students were surprised to know they had already made inferences. This helped students feel successful in the lesson.
2. Use teacher feedback
Teachers at your school and teachers to whom you sell your resources are invaluable in helping to better your content. Never be afraid to ask for or receive a critique of your work. Criticism is a privilege. It means someone is interested enough in your work to want it to be better. They believe in your idea. After finishing my synonyms unit plan, for instance, I asked a few veteran teachers to read over my plan. Their comments made my work stronger. When seeking feedback, I ask the following:
- Does the unit have students at the center of the learning?
- Is the work authentic? I want students to feel that their time is valued.
- How can I add more opportunities for informal assessment?
- How can I provide more access to all types of learners into my planning?
- Can you provide any other ideas or suggestions for me?
3. Use student feedback
My students feel comfortable giving me feedback on my lessons. I solicit feedback using student conversations and through the use of Google Forms. Additionally, I have also used "chalk talks" to solicit feedback. I post questions on social media and invite students to respond throughout the day.
While I cannot always implement their ideas immediately, I always do my best to consider them for next time or even to make changes to the unit for the next year. I planned a career exploration unit, for instance, that incorporated research skills, writing, and presentation work. The unit ended with a presentation. After finishing the assignment, the students critiqued the project and offered their feedback. They suggested changes to the graphic organizer they used to record their research. I edited the organizer following their feedback, and the resulting version is still used today.
4. Embed informal assessment within your lessons
Assessment is a vital piece of the lesson planning process and a key component of making lessons that matter. With student-centered activities, learners may not always produce a tangible product for you to grade. For example, as students participate in fishbowl conversations in my class, they are engaged in conversation about key topics. Students listen closely to one another and must use accountable speech when responding. When planning fishbowl discussions, I know that students have received the fishbowl rubric and understand it. During planning, I select a few students to assess using anecdotal notes. I might also decide to use a camera to take a short video.
5. Have fun and get to know your students
To make lessons that matter for everyone, getting to know the students you are teaching is key. Even if you teach the same units year after year, the students will know that these lessons were created with them in mind.
6. Make student work public
Make lessons matter by making student work public. Students begin to take ownership and pride when they know their family, other teachers and the community will see what they have accomplished. In the past, I have used Kidblog and Weebly to publish work. I set expectations and routines for using these sites. Once this is done, the process becomes a streamlined part of the day. Additionally, there have been evenings planned for students to showcase their work. This can also be done in the morning in the form of publishing parties.
7. And, finally, a seller's tip: Keep your prices low
The goal of every teacher is to help their students. By keeping my resources at an affordable price, I know that everyone will be able to have access to the units and lessons my students have loved.
Kimberly Masiello is the Literacy Coach at America's Finest Charter School in San Diego, CA. She is a top seller on both TES and Teachers Pay Teachers.