Snossel Gninnalp

In grad school, they taught us about BACKWARDS DESIGN.  It’s a lesson-planning approach that goes like this:

  1. I decide my students need to be able to do [A].
  2. I determine evidence that would prove they can do [A].
  3. I design the best path that leads them to producing that evidence.

I’m sure others have put it more eloquently, but that’s the gist.  See, it’s backwards in that I consider the END before the beginning.  Makes perfect sense to me; I just can’t do it.  Like the game Othello, it takes seconds to learn and a lifetime to master!

This week, my students are suffering from my very forwardly designed lessons.  We read “The Most Dangerous Game” (which is fabulous for 9th graders, by the way–really exciting, ripe for analysis, etc.  They’ll complain about the length then whine when it’s over.).  While we read, we took notes on character and setting.  I thought it was going rather well–felt real teacherly.

Things took a turn towards Sour Town when I gave them 3 possible writing assignments to choose from, all of which require the students to cite passages from the story to support their ideas.

That goal–using the text to support an analysis–baffled my students.  Not coincidentally, it’s where I failed to properly design my lessons backwards.

Oh, I knew I wanted to my students to be able to do this from the get-go; it’s why we took notes as we went along.  But here’s my failure (and I screw this up all the time): I don’t break down the larger task (using the text to support an analysis) into smaller, manageable components.

Some after-the-fact consideration: in order to do the job well, my students need to know how to:

  1. Find stuff in a story that supports their ideas.
  2. Incorporate the quoted material with their own ideas in a logical way.
  3. Properly cite the stuff in MLA format.

Three little things.  They’re manageable, too.  But I didn’t pause before I started the story to consider these needs.  I could’ve taught them this stuff along the way, but instead, my weak, sloppy lesson at the end set them up to fail.  They’re not getting it, and the assignment’s taking days longer than I anticipated.

So what’s the lesson here?  Sonny shouldn’t be teaching, probably.  But another lesson is to not only know where I’m taking my students, but anticipate and equip them with what they’ll need.  It sounds like absolute common sense, I know, but my brain just isn’t wired for it or something.  I’m getting better, but there are still units like this that suck suck suck.


5 responses to “Snossel Gninnalp

  1. Yeah, You Know Me

    I also suck at backwards planning. Usually my planning starts with “Hey–this would be a cool thing to read!” Then we all suffer together.

  2. Its ok Sonny…we all are stuck in Sour Town momentarily:) You should have sat in on the group presentations we had…whoooo! You would have felt like your genius self for ReaL!!!

  3. Phew — thought I was the only one with this problem. Last year I wanted my English II students to write a similar essay, using and citing evidence from the text. I mean, come on: (1) Make a point (2) Support it — the basis of all quality writing. I even went so far as to teach them HOW to do it. Specific, easy-to-read handouts, complete with examples. I modeled how would do it, at least two times. For several days, I was faced with blank stares and incredulous attitudes: “You want me to do WHAT?” I actually gave up and threw the assignment by the wayside. Afterward, I felt a pang of guilt, knowing they’ll need that skill later in life when writing literary analysis papers in college English Comp. But I still can sleep at night, so I supposed I’ve moved on.

  4. I try to remember how I learned it (incorporating quotations, citation, etc.), because I can do it. Somewhere along the line, a teacher got it in my head. But I also took honors classes all 4 years of high school.

  5. hmm, maybe it would work if you gave them a context?

    like that it would be published on a blog or Google Docs, or ‘fictional’ one like they are this expert in XYZ and they need to make a thesis on ZZZ and only use one book as ‘The’ Source (kinda like in old days scholars could only use one book – or limited amount – to cite and quote from!)

    I have no idea what the book is about so no idea if it would work… sometimes fun ‘contexts’ can help kids get more motivated (even if they’re silly ones, but that depends on age and class too…)

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