LessonCraft: A 5-step process to building solid lessons

Lesson planning

Lesson planning | Thursday, May 30, 2019

LessonCraft: A 5-step process to building solid lessons

LessonCraft: A 5-step process to building solid lessons

Teaching is like art. Creating great lessons is a craft. Here’s a process for crafting great lessons.

Woodworking has been a hobby of mine since I was young. I got it from my dad, who got it from his dad. We’re a kind of lineage of woodworkers.

I started with Pinewood Derby cars in Cub Scouts. My dad helped me trim down the wood block to become a car, add weight in the right spots, and finish it with paint and decals.

Now, as an adult, I still love to make things out of wood whenever I can — shelves, benches, even a deck off the back of the house.

The deeper I’ve gotten into woodworking — and into education — I’ve started to see similarities between how woodworkers craft something out of wood and how teachers craft great lessons.

I really believe teaching is a craft. It’s art. And when we study how other artists do their work, we can learn about our own art — in the form of teaching.

Step 1: Dream

You’d think that a woodworker starts with wood and hammer and nails, right? A woodworker actually starts with a dream. She envisions something that doesn’t exist in this world — or at least in her house! — and has a passion to bring it to life. A woodworker can build virtually anything out of wood. She’s only limited by her imagination.

Teachers need to dream, too. We need to dream about the classroom we want to create. The cool lessons that will engage both our students AND us. Are you dreaming? And if you are, are you taking your dreams seriously?

Step 2: Plan

You have your dream. Now it’s time to start making some plans. This is the exciting part. Anything is possible! You want to make sure, though, that all of the pieces fit together nicely. I plan my woodworking projects out with my dad because he sees things differently than I do. His lifetime of experience saves us from mistakes and makes our projects better.

Planning can be isolating and lonely. Are you planning alone? Identify your fellow lesson architects — the ones you can plan your creations with. If you’re lucky, they’re next door or down the hall from you. Or you may find them online, part of thriving educator communities on Twitter and other social media.

(Want to get started on Twitter but don’t know how? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Twitter for Teachers, a free ebook … no signup necessary!)

Step 3: Build

You have your dream. Your plan is in place. Now it’s time to get to work and step into the lesson builder’s workshop. If you step into the lesson builder’s workshop …

  • You have stacks of materials — wooden boards, metal sheets, and more. These are the content you teach and the content standards you teach to.
  • You have tools hanging from the walls and on the workbench. These are the tech tools you use and your learning activities. Tools are pointless without materials. Materials have unfulfilled potential without tools to shape them. They’re dependent on each other.
  • You have your nails and screws and glue. These are the lesson planning frameworks that hold your lesson together, like Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and Universal Design for Learning. They’re not yet another excessive step in your busy life. These give your lessons structure and hold them together tightly.

Step 4: Adjust

Even our best-laid plans aren’t executed to perfection. There will be bumps in the road. Mistakes. Flaws in our plans. They’re not failures. They’re just opportunities to adjust.

Even great woodworkers have to adjust. Clint Harp, the woodworker from the famous HGTV show Fixer Upper wrote about this in his book, Handcrafted.

As it goes with furniture, so it goes with life. It’s a process. Sometimes, you just have to pick up the pieces from the splinters and sawdust and improvise. — Clint Harp

When we dream up and create a new lesson, it’s easy to feel disappointed. Reality never quite reaches our lofty expectations. That doesn’t mean your work has failed. It just means that you’re human — and it’s an opportunity to adjust. When you create new lessons, I think we should plan for this part. Plan to be disappointed — so that it doesn’t catch us by surprise and so we don’t give up.

Step 5: Refresh

The last part of a woodworking project is called “finishing.” It’s where we put a coat or two of paint or some stain and varnish on to make our creation look its best. I’ve always thought it’s funny that we call it finishing. Our creations — in wood or in lessons — are never a finished product.

We can refinish and refresh rough lessons that we’re not thrilled with. But we can also refresh lessons that we really love. It’s an opportunity to take them from good to great.

The lesson builder’s process

  • We dream about the magical potential of our lessons and our classroom.
  • We make our best plans, harnessing the excitement from our dreams.
  • We carefully craft our lessons with the best materials and tools.
  • We adjust when things go wrong instead of scrapping the whole project.
  • We refresh the rough and improve the good, keeping the process going.

This is LessonCraft. This is the process.

Our students benefit; they learn more deeply and enjoy it.

But we benefit, too … we unleash our full potential and experience joy in teaching lessons we love.

Let’s become master crafters in the art of designing great lessons.

The whole lesson builder’s process on a sticker! We use Sticker Mule to order custom logo stickers. If you want to order stickers, you can get a $10 credit on your first order!

Disclaimer: We received store credit in exchange for mentioning Sticker Mule in this post … so we can  give away more stickers for free to teachers at conferences and events!

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Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

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