Framing the Lesson

Framing the Lesson

No matter what the journey is, we all benefit from knowing where we are headed, are reassured by directional signs along the way, and appreciate a “you have arrived at your destination” affirmation at the end of the drive!

Similarly, students will learn more – and perform at higher levels – when they have these kinds of markers in a lesson. In fact, when they know what they are supposed to learn and how they can show they‘ve got it, they’re much more likely to be motivated and successful.

Sean Cain and Mike Laird use the term “framing the lesson” in The Fundamental Five to explain a two-part process that gives students a clear map and destination for each lesson. In the first part, the teacher begins class by informing students what they will be learning. The second part occurs at the end of class when students demonstrate what they’ve learned. Hence, the term “framing;” it includes instructional actions at the beginning and end of the lesson.

The Beginning of the Lesson

At the beginning, students should be aware of the lesson’s learning target or daily objective. The learning target should be a student-friendly statement of what students will be learning during the lesson. For example, rather than simply copying the state standard or listing the agenda for the day, a learning target would be a “We will” statement.  An example might be “We will rehearse the ballad portion of the marching show.”

The learning target should be posted where students can see it, discussed at the beginning of class, and paced to be satisfactorily accomplished in a single class session.

The End of the Lesson

At the end of the lesson, students complete a closing task that demonstrates their proficiency with the learning target or objective. This product or question proves to students that they have “arrived at the destination.” The task should be specifically tied to the learning target, demonstrating independent work by each student, and easily assessed by the teacher (with a quick look). Generally, “I will” type statements are ideal. For example, our closing task statement might be “I will achieve 90% accuracy in notes and rhythms for the assigned selection.”

The Middle of the Lesson

We’ve all begun a trip knowing the destination and still managed to get completely off-course somewhere along the way. And we’ve all seen students get lost over the course of a lesson, too. That’s why merely beginning and closing the lesson with clarity isn’t enough. We need to provide additional “signage” along the way to help students stay on track. We can achieve this through frequent monitoring and checking for understanding along the way.

Just as the highway department places identifying signage at particular intersections and intervals along interstate highways, we need to place opportunities for monitoring and checking throughout our lessons. Identify transition points in the lesson to check on student understanding and progress, using different types of student outputs.

For example, a quick “fist to five” technique will identify which students are ready to proceed. The beauty of this check is that it promotes self-assessment and takes seconds. After an activity (such as sight reading complex rhythms), students rate how they performed with the fingers of one hand. All five fingers means the students felt they mastered the material; a fist means they feel they need more work.

A next check might be for a section to play the rhythm in unison for the larger ensemble, and then for partners to provide one-sentence feedback (written and/or verbal) to each other after paired practice.

More Benefits to Framing the Lesson

This planned and structured monitoring of learning allows the teacher to adapt the lesson immediately if necessary. It also facilitates working closely with students who might need additional instruction before paired or independent practice. Students are provided the support when and where they need it.

Importantly, framing the lesson helps students navigate these checks by putting them in a larger context. You can connect one lesson to the next more easily, showing students how one skill leads to another. Framing the lesson also makes it easy to include other important pedagogical techniques, such as differentiated instruction, in your lesson plan. For example, when students know the goal of the lesson, they will be more successful when presented with activities that let them choose appropriate repertoire on their own.

There are many engaging ways to frame the lesson and monitor learning. In tomorrow’s post I will share three best practices for introducing the learning target, monitoring learning, and collecting evidence of student success.

As an instructional coach and dean at James Madison High School in San Antonio, Heather Sargent works primarily with literacy teachers and students, supporting academic achievement.

For more than 25 years she has worked as a trainer of teachers, curriculum developer, and instructional support coach in both public schools and through community health education organizations.

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