Our teaching day is busy; often crazy busy. The bigger your school, the more complex your timetable. Trying to manage the requirements of your day can feel like an absolute nightmare. Trying to plan and prepare for all of this can sometimes leave you feeling exhausted and hopeless.
If you find yourself frantically searching online for units of work or collecting a range of seemingly unrelated resources then you might be suffering from the cognitive overload that comes from the busy-ness of our curriculum. If you can’t connect your teaching activities directly to the curriculum and your students’ goals (or if you don’t have clear goals) you are at risk of ‘random acts of improvement’.
One of the ways that you can alleviate this teacher cognitive overload and the trap of random acts of improvement is to create systems in your teaching that are easy to differentiate and involve minimal preparation. You can’t have every area of your teaching take this form, but having some of your day ‘easy on the brain’ will make things much more manageable. (It is helpful for the kids too!)
Lower Primary (or children at the early stages of literacy – regardless of age)
The major focus of lower primary is learning to read and write so most of your classroom English time should be focused on these two endeavours.
- Phonics (including blending and segmenting) – Use a consistent lesson format that you can teach the children, simply changing out the sounds that you use each day.
- Reading – children require reading instruction in lower primary that utilises decodable texts. The major focus is on decoding, however your instruction should include opportunities for answering questions and exploring vocabulary. The ratio of decoding/comprehension in lower primary could be expressed as 70% decoding / 30% comprehension.
Daily writing – Have set procedures such as
- Oral language – Choose a sentence structure each week and provide a daily opportunity to practice it orally.
- Phonological and Phonemic Awareness – Use a ready made program such as Michael Heggerty’s Phonemic Awareness program with prewritten lessons.
- Writing Instruction – Use a set sequence of teaching (such as my Text Based Learning Unit) to provide quality teaching based in Rich Literature to support and scaffold student’s learning.
In upper primary children are mostly reading and writing independently. They need less emphasis on phonics and more emphasis on interacting with and understanding text. They will also move on to refining and developing their writing skills.
- Word knowledge progresses from a phonics focus to learning about morphology (parts of words – prefixes, suffixes etc) and etymology (origins of words). This still needs to be taught systematically and so you should develop or adopt a system for this teaching that has the same steps each day/series of lesson, but with a different lesson focus.
- Reading – in upper primary we need to focus on building comprehension through study of vocabulary, text structure, author choices and more complex sentence structures. This can be done through the use of units of work that follow a set sequence, such as my Text Based Learning Units. A structure such as this is repeatable for whatever text is used.
- Further, an approach such as Article of the Day https://about.readworks.org/digital-print-project.html can help your students engage in reading and interpreting texts across the curriculum.
- Daily writing – can still include the suggested lesson structure as for lower primary, but you can include more writer’s workshop style lessons to give greater freedom to students. Be sure to give students direction (too much choice is crippling) but there can be more room for students to move.
- Oral language – Students in the upper years of primary still need a focus on oral structures, so choose a sentence structure each week and provide a daily opportunity to practice it orally.
- Writing – instruction in the upper years of primary should focus on sentence and text production. My Text Based Learning Unit provides a sequence that allows you to teach with certainty and not have to worry that you are missing things.
Creating sustainable systems in your teaching means that you have the headspace and energy to focus on developing truly responsive learning opportunities for students that gives really great bang for your buck. Much of what we do can be systematized to free up our cognitive load and ensure that we don’t engage in random acts of improvement that don’t yield the results our students deserve.
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