Planning For Teaching

In addition to refining syllabi in the weeks and months prior to teaching a course, effective teaching requires mindful planning in week to week logistics. Here, I discuss my considerations when planning and implementing a particular class session. In general, I try to leave some element of flexibility when planning my courses, so that I can adapt to the specific needs of a particular cohort of students—not all students are identical and different groups of students can have distinct classroom dynamics, strengths, and weaknesses that may cater towards particular pedagogical decisions.

About a week before a given class, I try to envision how this particular session fits into the larger scheme of the course syllabus. What learning objectives will we be working towards in this specific class? How will we make progress towards our semester goals by building upon what we’ve done so far and looking ahead to the remainder of our time together? After I’ve identified the main objective of the day, I sit down to comprise a general outline of how time will be spent. I create a schedule with five minute intervals (here is an example) that I bring with me to class. I share both the day’s learning objectives and the schedule with my students so that everyone understands our common goals for that class and how we plan to accomplish them.

When I first start class, I like to begin with some kind of warm-up activity to engage students and set the tone for the day. Even in a large, lecture-style class, I believe it is important to not dive directly into a lecture; rather, students should be given the opportunity to contemplate the material on their own and forge connections between readings, their other classes, and the material at hand. I try to have these activities take about 5 minutes, then I present the schedule and learning objectives of the day. From there, I try to split my class into 15–20 minute time slots. I attempt to vary what our classroom does within those 15–20 minute slots; for instance, we may start with a small group discussion for 15 minutes on a class reading, followed by a lecture on core concepts or material, then end with a low-stakes writing assignment that is shared with partners to reflect on what was learned that day. I’ve found this general approach to be effective in keeping students interested, engaged, and learning in the classroom.