For beginning and experienced teachers alike, it is often difficult to think past the coming week’s section. Indeed, even many longtime teachers continue to plan on a week-to-week basis. The purpose of this document is to challenge teachers to think more broadly about the skills and the knowledge base that they want students to develop in their section, lab, or class.
Step one is to develop overarching goals to guide your teaching. In any course, one main objective is for students to master the content and perform well on course assignments. However, there are often skill sets or areas of knowledge that are particularly important — not only for success in the course, but also for students’ general education and growth. When you create lesson plans anchored in the skills that you expect your students to learn, you help them acquire the academic skills they will bring forward into the rest of their education, while also focusing on your particular course objectives.
In developing semester goals, it is important to conduct some preliminary research. Consider the syllabus and identify major assignments and areas of emphasis for the course, including readings and supplemental material that you would like you to incorporate into your course (for graduate students and postdocs, consult on this task with the faculty member with whom you are working). Next, identify at least three semester goals, with an emphasis on the skills that you expect your students to acquire. One way to approach this is to complete the following statement:
“By the end of this semester, my students will be able to ____ (e.g., analyze a historical document), ____ (e.g., use the scientific method to investigate biological phenomena), and _____ (e.g., compare and contrast two thinkers’ theories of social organization).”
Step two: After identifying your semester goals, the second step is to break these goals down into discrete section objectives and activities. If, for example, the goal is to prepare students to write an original history paper based on archival research, you might develop a sequence of short lessons or presentations that you then include in your class time (see example below). You could use a range of different section activities to accomplish your goals. See “Planning Activities: Some Guidelines.”
Step three: Once semester goals and corresponding objectives are established, the final step is to create a semester plan to schedule and sequence the activities and assignments that will help your students achieve the goals you set for them. This is also a great time to jot down the readings or assignments for each week of the course. Remember, this is a living document that will change as the semester proceeds. The purpose of long-term section planning is to provide a solid foundation and a jump-start for planning weekly sections.
To recap the three primary stages of advanced section planning:
- Develop overarching goals to guide your teaching
- Break these goals down into discrete section objectives and activities
- Create a semester plan to schedule and sequence the activities and assignments
Now, let’s explore a few examples of skills-focused section planning.
- In a social science course, you might assign a paper that requires students to examine and incorporate archival research.
- An introductory science course might require students to submit a write-up of laboratory-based research.
In each of these instances, the teacher could simply provide his or her students with instructions for doing each of these assignments. However, you also could instead plan a series of section discussions and activities that will help students practice and develop the research skills, vocabulary, and techniques that will help them succeed — not only on that particular assignment, but also in future coursework.
In the social science course, the teacher could devote three sections to helping students develop the skills necessary for conducting archival research.
- During section one, the teacher and students meet with a librarian from Sterling Memorial Library (just fill out this form or perhaps contact your subject librarian) or one of the specialty libraries, who helps them learn how to navigate the library system. Part of this section is devoted specifically to using online research and bibliographic databases.
- In section two, the teacher breaks students into small groups and asks each group to analyze the content and language used in a short archival document. The small groups then reconvene and describe to the class how they approached their textual analysis.
- In section three, the teacher provides students with a thesis statement and asks them what sorts of archival information they need to support this statement.
These three sections build on one another, with:
- Section one exposing students to the tools of textual research
- Section two initiating students into textual analysis
- Section three requiring students to think about how they would acquire and then analyze the historical material needed to support an argument
There are several advantages to long-term section planning. Teachers who walk into the first section with ambitious goals for their students have a better chance of getting those students to invest in the course. Moreover, thinking broadly and strategically across a semester about the purpose(s) and objective(s) of your section is great practice for conceptualizing and structuring courses and syllabi in the future. Finally, long-term section planning, with its skill-building, rather than assignment-based focus, will help your students succeed in your section and in future college coursework.
Please see the workshop agenda detailing how this Advanced Section Planning module was taught as a workshop in the past. We hope it proves helpful for your section planning, especially if you are collaborating as part of, or with, a group of teaching fellows or postdocs to design skills-based, semester-long section plans.