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What is the 21st Century Lesson Plan?

Posted by on March 24, 2015

lesson plansTechnology and the connected world put a fork in the old model of teaching–instructor in front of the class, sage on the stage, students madly taking notes, textbooks opened to the chapter being reviewed, homework as worksheets based on the text, tests regurgitating important facts.

Did I miss anything?

This model is outdated not because it didn’t work (many statistics show students ranked higher on global testing years ago than they do now), but because the environment changed. Our classrooms are more diverse. Students are digital natives, already in the habit of learning via technology. The ‘college and career’ students are preparing for is different so the education model must be different.

Preparing for this new environment requires radical changes in teacher lesson plans. Here are seventeen concepts you’ll want to include in your preparation:

  1. Students are graduating from high school unable to work in the jobs that are available. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to insure students learn over-arching concepts such as how to speak to a group, how to listen effectively, how to think critically, and how to solve problems. The vehicle for teaching these ideas is history, science, and literature, but they aren’t the goal.industry analyst
  2. To focus on the over-arching concepts above, make learning platform-neutral. For example, when teaching spreadsheets, make the software or online tools a vehicle for practicing critical thinking, data analysis, and evidence-based learning, not for learning one brand of software or a particular spreadsheet tool. Besides, what you use at school may not be what students have at home. You don’t want students to conflate your lessons with ‘something done at school’. You want them to apply them to their life.
  3. Morph the purpose from ‘knowing’ to ‘understanding’. Teach the process, not a skill. Students should understand why they select a particular tool, not just how to use it. Why use PowerPoint instead of a word processing program? Or a spreadsheet instead of a slideshow? Expect students to be critical thinkers, not passive learners.
  4. Transfer of knowledge is critical. What students learn in one class is applied to all classes (where relevant). For example, word study is no longer about memorizing vocabulary, but knowing how to decode unknown academic and domain-specific words using affixes, roots, and context.
  5. Collaboration and sharing is part of what students learn. They help each other by reviewing and commenting on projects before submittal to the teacher (GAFE makes that easy). The definition of ‘project’ itself has changed from ‘shiny perfect student work’ to review-edit-rewrite-submit. You grade them on all four steps, not just the last one. This makes a lot of sense–who gets it right the first time? I rewrote this article at least three times before submitting. Why expect differently from students? Plus: No longer do students submit a project that only the teacher sees (and then a few are posted on classroom bulletin boards). Now, it is shared with all classmates, so all benefit from every students’ work.collaboration
  6. Self-help methods are provided and you expect students to use them. This includes online dictionaries and thesauruses, how-to videos, and access to teacher assistance outside of class. These are available 24/7 for students, not just during classroom hours. This happens via online videos, taped class sessions, the class website, downloadable materials so students don’t worry that they ‘left it in their desk’.
  7. Teachers are transparent with parents. You let them know what’s going on in the classroom, welcome their questions and visits, communicate often via email or blogs when it’s convenient for them. That doesn’t mean you’re on duty around the clock. It means you differentiate for the needs of your parents. Your Admin understands that change by providing extended lunch hours, compensatory time off, or subs when you’re fulfilling this responsibility.App icons
  8. Failure is a learning tool. Assessments aren’t about ‘getting everything right’ but about making progress toward the goal of preparing for life
  9. Differentiation is the norm. You allow different approaches as long as students achieve the Big Idea or answer the Essential Question. You aren’t the only one to come up with these varied approaches–students know what works best for their learning and present it to you as an option.
  10. The textbook is a resource, supplemented by a panoply of books, primary documents, online sites, experts, Skype chats, and anything else that supports the topic. This information doesn’t always agree on a conclusion. Students use habits of mind like critical thinking, deep learning, and evidence-based decisions to decide on the right resources
  11. The lesson plan changes from the first day to the last–and that’s OK. It is adapted to student needs, interests, and hurdles that arise as it unfolds, while staying true to its essential question and big idea.
  12. Assessment might include a quiz or test, but it also judges the student’s transfer of knowledge from other classes, their tenacity in digging into the topic, their participation in classroom discussions, and more.big idea Light bulb illustration icon
  13. Vocabulary is integrated into lessons, not a stand-alone topic. Students are expected to decode words in class materials that they don’t understand by using quickly-accessed online vocabulary tools, or deriving meaning from affixes, roots, and context.word study
  14. Problem solving is integral to learning. It’s not a stressful event, rather viewed as a life skill. Who doesn’t have problems every day that must be solved? Students are expected to attempt a solution using tools at their disposal (such as prior knowledge, classmates, and classroom resources) before asking for help.
  15. Digital citizenship is taught, modeled and enforced in every lesson, every day, every class. It’s no longer something covered in the ‘tech lab’ because every class has as much potential for working online as offline. Every time the lesson plan calls for an online tool or research using a search engine or a YouTube video, teachers review/remind/teach how to visit the online neighborhood safely. It’s frightening how students blithely follow weblinks to places most parent wouldn’t allow their child to visit in their neighborhood. Just as students have learned how to survive in a physical community of strangers, they must learn to do the same in a digital neighborhood.
  16. Keyboarding skills are granular. They aren’t used only in the computer lab, but in every class students take. If students are using iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, or desktops for learning, they are using keyboarding–which means they must know how to do so efficiently, quickly, and stresslessly. Since keyboarding benefits all classes, all teachers–including the librarian–become partners in this effort. I go into classrooms and show students the broad strokes; the teacher reinforces it every time the student sits down at the computer.typing on keyboard
  17. Play is the new teaching. It is a well-accepted concept for pre-schoolers and has made a successful leap to the classroom, relabeled as ‘gamification’. Use the power of games to draw students into learning and encourage them to build on their own interests. Popular games in the classroom include Minecraft, Mission US, Scratch, and others on this list. If your school is new to this concept, clear it with admin first and be prepared to support your

When I first wrote lesson plans, it was all about aligning learning with standards, completing the school’s curricula, ticking off required skills. Now, I build the habits of mind that allow for success in education and home life and construct a personal knowledge base with students that will work for their differentiated needs. Like any lesson plan, this is only difficult the first time. After that, it seems natural.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

updated 4-29-16

33 Responses to What is the 21st Century Lesson Plan?

  1. Deirdre Degagne

    One that includes essentials such as: keyboarding, digital citizenship, problem solving,a variety of resopurces and flexibility

    • Jacqui

      You and I agree, Deirdre. Whether it’s history, math, science, or PE, those topics should be reinforced when they come up. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Erica

      Agree with Keyboarding for sure!

      • Jacqui

        No one has secretaries anymore, and too much requires fingers on keys to leave it to someone else. Absolutely critical.

  2. Baljit Sekhon

    I agree that problem solving should not be seen as a stressful event, rather viewed as a life skill.

    • Jacqui

      Kids are open to that. We as teachers (and parents) simply need to reinforce their natural inclination to try again. Thanks for dropping in, Balijit.

  3. Lorence

    One wherein the tools used become the ‘vehicle’ for critical thinking not the focus of the lesson plan itself.

  4. Royce

    Failure is a learning tool. Mistakes are learning opportunities. A summative test to most students is an exit sign but learning activities should inspire students to delve deeper into a skill or topic. While it is not reasonable to expect a student will be desire to aspire to excellence or become an expert about every topic or skill I present, the learning activities should spark an interest that reaches beyond the scope I can provide in the classroom.

    • Jacqui

      I completely agree, Royce. My hope for them is they will always want to be the best they can, be risk-takers and creative thinkers.

  5. Dave Chambers

    One that inspires and challenges students to pursue lifelong learning in as many ways as possible. It should draw on the skills of the students and allow them to develop new skills in a way that is relevant to them. It should also encourage students should own their learning realize the importance of establishing a personal learning community.

    • Jacqui

      Two great additional points, Dave–allow them to develop new skills and build a PLN. Thanks for adding those.

  6. eaaron

    The notion that failure is acceptable and indeed a learning tool is particularly relevant to me. This truly requires a re-education in my opinion because students are still consumed by “getting it right”. They need practice on the concept of review-edit-rewrite-submit. They need to be schooled on the attitude adjustment that failure is an opportunity to try again… to make things better… to LEARN.

    • Jacqui

      Absolutely. I don’t mind failing in front of my students–but I do it with aplomb! I take in in course, remain calm, discuss how I seek a solution. By the time we have ultimately prevailed, they think it was a lesson!

  7. Liliana Benitez

    Assessment! Creativity must be included. Evaluate the way they learned.

    • Jacqui

      You’re right of course. Creativity used to be about art and music. Now, it’s mainstream. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Monica Agamez

    Students should always see clearly a purpose in what they learn. That promotes their motivation.

  9. Maria Valbuena

    Having in mind that our students are digital natives, already in the habit of learning via technology in the classroom and outside it, a need to prepare ourselves for this new and changing environment is required, where different concepts in our preparation should be included. i.e., keyboarding, digital citizenship, problem solving, etc. and a great plus is to create a learning environment where students are allowed and facilitated different approaches in learning, motivating them to always be the best they can (be risk-takers, creative thinkers, achievers of goals, great collaborators and communicators, etc.), and that mistakes/failures made during the process of learning should be considered as learning opportunities that prepares them for life.

  10. Debbie Born

    Lots of great ideas here. Having access to technology on a regular basis is a good way to be able to teach digital citizenship on an ongoing basis. Keyboarding is a skill – what good apps are out there to give students practice with keyboarding?

  11. John Henrici

    If literature and history are merely vehicles for teaching habits of mind, where does transmission of culture come in? Is the idea of “American culture” or “American values” passe? E pluribus unum? If a 16 year old student says, “I’m into robotics; don’t bug me with this Shakespeare or American history jazz,” do we back off and allow this student to chart his/her own course? I guess I’m thinking that if we’re teaching habits of mind (and I agree that that is an important goal), aren’t we discounting the specific ideas and values (democracy is good; decisions need to be based on logic and reason; a book written in 1836 can illuminate the human condition in 2016) contained within those disciplines?

    • Jacqui

      I’ll start by agreeing with you that literature and history are much more than a way to teach thinking. If we don’t know history, we are doomed to repeat it. And, without literature, who among us could write well? As you say, culture, values–these are narrated discussions. These are shown, not told. Our job as teachers–with that 16-year-old student–is to teach them robotics, which rightly includes knowledge of Shakespeare or American history or jazz or engineering or math–or so much more. We show them the connections. They run with them.

      For me, the habits of mind provide a framework for all subjects. History or economics is boring (maybe) if students don’t understand the thought processes that go into them. Socialism is utopia except for those pesky real-life examples of Cuba and Russia.

      We 21st-century teachers are expected not to lecture at students, but show them how to draw these conclusions themselves.

  12. Danny Davis

    Huh???? I think most teachers know most of this intuitively. What I find in my school and district is a movement in the opposite direction. The model you propose is one of more freedom for the student to learn by their own style and resources. You propose a diversity that is absolute calling on all resources. You advocate a driving force to critical thinking. This is not the model that my district, Broward county, Florida impresses on the classroom. We are required to create standardized classroom formats that lock teachers and students into small boxes of standardized learning. i am very attracted to what you advocate, I find it healthy and exhilarating, but not the norm.

    • Jacqui

      I agree–it’s what most teachers know intuitively, maybe subconsciously, but not the norm in their educational delivery–as you point out. I hope by organizing these thoughts, teachers will see that it’s not complicated at all to make lessons student-focused, differentiated, and a lot more fun for all stakeholders. In many cases, this approach needs to be in front of administrators rather than teachers; as you indicate, they often establish the standards.

  13. Suzie

    I love all of this information in one place. I can see how useful it is for me.

  14. Patience Hollingsworth

    This is completely different than how curriculum was taught to me in school, and it completely redefines how I should be teaching. It’s very exciting. Also, overwhelming. Teachers need time during their work days to learn and apply these new methods. We want to do all of this, of course.

    • Jacqui

      You are so right, Patience. These 17 concepts aren’t to be absorbed overnight. Start with whatever is the low-hanging fruit for your classes and move to more challenging once those are in place. Let me know if I can help with anything.

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