Lesson Plan Reviews Introduction
Whether you're new to the history classroom or have two decades behind you, we all know that a good lesson plan can help our students engage, stay focused, and produce good work.
And the web offers millions of lesson plans, but that's just the problem. How do you choose from the millions of plans available online? How do you avoid being swamped by too many choices?
Let's say we need some good plans for teaching the Civil War to middle school students. Go to Google, put in "Civil War lesson plans," and lo and behold, we hit the motherlode—763,000 plans!—or did we. . .
Click on one, and we find a plan that has clips of songs from the Civil War. This seems a great resource, but investigating further, what is it that students are going to do with these songs? A free style drawing which will then be put into a book. Really? Is this what we want students to learn about the Civil War? Is this how we challenge our students, and develop their historical understanding? That's where this feature from the National History Education Clearinghouse [Teachinghistory.org] comes in. It's designed to give you a way to evaluate what you find out there on the web.
There are two ways we help you do this. The first is a rubric for evaluating lesson plans. Research based, our rubric includes indicators of a strong plan for the history classroom. Second, we offer a set of quality plans that have been reviewed using our rubric. This Civil War plan would get dinged using our rubric. Artwork has a place in the history classroom, but not at the expense of learning content through reading and writing.
A closer look at the rubric shows that we’ve identified four core dimensions of an exemplary lesson:
- Analytic thinking
- And lesson structure.
Each of these dimensions includes two to three descriptors or easy to see aspects of a plan. So for content, a lesson plan should be historically accurate, provide background information that helps orient you and your students, and should require that students read and write.
For analytic thinking, two descriptors ask about whether students have a chance to think historically during the lesson. Are students required to read sources closely? Do they have to notice when and by whom the source was created? Consider the original audience? Must students interpret evidence, or use evidence to support their claims?
Our third dimension is scaffolding or, in other words, the supports necessary to help students do these challenging tasks. Does a lesson ask students to read sources, and then jump to writing an argumentative essay without any intermediary steps? Are tools like background information, explicit instruction, and graphic organizers used to help and guide students?
Finally, lesson structure matters. Is it practical? Can we understand the sequence of activities? Find the materials? Does it build toward particular learning goals, and are those learning goals assessed?
Admittedly, meeting all these requirements is a tall bill for any one lesson. Rather, each approved lesson in our set exemplifies particular dimensions of the rubric.
Look at the Library of Congress's lesson on the Declaration of Independence to see effective scaffolding for helping young students access a difficult text. Check out Edsitement’s lesson on African Americans in the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps to see how lessons can engage students in interpreting historical phenomena. But don't expect to find all the historical topics you teach represented here, nor a lesson plan for every day of your class. What you will find is an assortment of lessons that win our Clearinghouse seal of approval. These can help you evaluate and pick which of those 763,000 lessons on the Civil War you might want to use.
And most importantly remember every classroom is different, and a one size fits all lesson plan is probably not possible, or even desirable. Always consider how to tailor the plan for your students given what you know about their abilities and interests as well as the arc of your curriculum.
For help with thinking through this, check out the video reviews that experienced teachers have done on our hall of fame lessons.