Thursday, June 7, 2012

Easy Way to Plan for the School Year

I'm in a unique position right now in my teaching career. In some ways I should totally be prepared for homeschooling my son, but in so many ways I'm feeling inadequate. When that happens, I fall back on what has worked for me in the past.

On the NSTA listserves, I recently responded to a request for suggestions on how to plan for an entirely new class. In this case, it was an experienced teacher looking for direction on designing a new course from scratch. But it could apply to a first-year classroom teacher, or to a first-year homeschooling teacher, like me! I posted a version of what I am going to share with you here, and got an overwhelming response. While my organizational tactics may seem old school, there's something very tangible and do-able that has a strong appeal! 

I got this idea from an elementary school teacher. Buy one of those cheap poster boards (can you get them for under a dollar any more?), divide it into 4 quadrants, each representing one of the grading quarters. Then use post-it notes to put in the over arching topics (units) you want to cover each quarter. With different colored post-it notes add the labs you want to do, fieldtrips you want to take, speakers you want to bring in..etc... Play with the post-it notes until you feel like the conceptual order makes sense, and provides a thorough examination of the course objectives! 

Again, I feel better planning the big picture first or else my units last too long because I get so excited about a single topic. It focuses me, and helps me know where I am headed. If you don't plan the actual lessons during the summer (like you might be saying you will do) that's OK. You'll feel prepared to teach this fall just having the big idea of your course conceptualized. And if you know what topics you want include, you can keep this in mind as you gather ideas for activities and labs. Consider using Pinterest as a way to keep track of the cool ideas so you can find them again quickly throughout the school year.

Here's my suggestion:
  1. Purpose: Determine the purpose of the course. Look for course descriptions and talk to anyone who has previously taught the course to get a feel for its goal's. 
  2. Standards: If the course is associated with specific standards (Common core or otherwise), make sure you know which ones!
  3. Audience: Who takes this course? Whether its your first year teaching, or its a new course or grade level, determine the types of students with whom you will working. What have they learned in previous classes on which you can build?
  4. Topics: Knowing the purpose, standards, and audience prepares you for beginning to determine the sequencing of the topics you'd like students to learn. Place post-it notes (I suggest the Super Sticky Notes if you plan on keeping the poster board around all year, which is what I always did!)   
  5. Activities: Once you have the big ideas in place, as you come across ideas, you can jot them down on a post-it, and place it in the appropriate quadrant so remember to revisit the idea later! 
[As you can tell from the language I use, I'm speaking to this issue of planning from a secondary teacher's perspective. However, this method of planning works for any level.] 

How do you plan your school year? Any tips of how this might translate for  homeschool planning? 


  1. The poster board year long planning is a great idea!

    1. I'm visual, so I love having this around to keep me accountable! It worked great as a classroom teacher too because each class I taught had its own poster board. It helped keep me sane!

  2. I like this idea. Normally I get way too detailed and make all these charts and schedules that I only end up following for a month or so. This year I printed out a calendar of each month to work from. We'll see where it gets me! I saw you on Circle of Moms and sent a vote your way. :) Andrea

  3. Hi, I am also a long time public school teacher and consultant who started homeschooling her kids. I don't mention it often in my public professional life because I often feel judged. I was impressed that you have it all together here on your blog and I admire that!

    I thought you might be interested in a series of blog posts I did on creating a curriculum and writing goals for your homeschooling. You can read the six parts here:

    1. Heddi, I'm so glad to know there are other "professionals" homeschooling. I'm finding that being traditionally trains is slanting how I approach teaching my kids at home. I'm trying my best to be transparent about my struggle, here on my blog. objectives, meeting standards, teaching bell-to-bell, classroom management, only some of these things I've learned (and taught to preservice teachers) apply to homeschooling. I've feeling liberated at times, and overwhelmed at other times.

      Your series curriculum and writing goals is wonderful. I will be using your tips for the goal writing. I really want to keep the overarching goals in mind! So this is an activity I MUST do, and keep it handy to pull it out, when I get caught up in the details (or screaming kids)!

      Thanks so much for your encouragement!



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