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How to use the WHERETO formula for lesson planning?

How can teachers plan for learning using the WHERETO formula so that each student reaches their full potential?

As practising teachers, we must underscore a fundamental principle: What gets planned, gets done. The cornerstone of effective teaching lies in our lesson planning, and it's imperative that this process evolves with the changing educational landscape. In our initial teacher preparation programs, student teachers typically invest significant time in crafting intricate lesson plans, emphasising the need for specific and measurable objectives, along with engaging activities aligned with these objectives. Assessments are designed to measure our students' progress toward achieving these objectives. However, as we transition from our training to our first year of teaching, we may notice a shift in the importance placed on planning.


Upon entering a new teaching environment, we inevitably sense the prevailing culture and practices. If it appears that planning is not a priority among our colleagues, we might find ourselves diverting our precious time to other tasks such as copying, grading, or paperwork. This adaptation is a survival mechanism, driven by the intense demands of the first year in the classroom, and planning often takes a back seat.


As part of our commitment to supporting teachers at Innerkern, we have analysed the lesson plans teachers create. We have encountered a range of issues, starting with vague or overly broad learning objectives like "Students will learn about the geography of the Midwest." Such objectives lack the specificity needed for effective planning. Additionally, we've observed confusion between activities and objectives, where, for instance, "Participate in a debate about the pros and cons of nationalism" is mistakenly presented as an objective.


Furthermore, it's common to find lesson plans loaded with content, particularly when teachers aim to teach specific topics like the water cycle. These plans tend to list various concepts and their definitions. While some plans include detailed activity descriptions, they often focus on what students will do rather than what and how they will learn.


It's crucial for us to remember that the key to fostering meaningful learning experiences for our students lies in our planning process. Shift your focus from merely teaching to planning for learning. Start by asking ourselves, as Harry and Rosemary Wong suggest, “Stop asking, ‘What am I going to cover tomorrow?’ ‘What video am I going to show?’ ‘What worksheet am I going to give out?’ ‘What activity am I going to do?’ Danger lurks in the word I. Start asking, ‘What are my students to learn, achieve, and accomplish tomorrow?’ This shift in perspective will guide us toward creating purposeful lesson plans that empower our students to truly grasp the subject matter and achieve their educational goals.


At Innerkern, our commitment is to empower you to shift your planning focus from how you will teach to how your students will learn. During our extensive research into lesson planning, we encountered the invaluable insights of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, who introduced the WHERETO formula for lesson planning. This formula presents seven critical questions that should guide our lesson planning. Let us explore how you can effectively apply these questions to enrich your lesson plans.


The W Question

How will you help your students know where they are headed and why?

This question essentially prompts you to set clear and meaningful learning objectives for your students. By doing so, you provide them with a roadmap for their educational journey and establish a sense of purpose, which is essential for engagement and motivation.


To effectively address this question in your lesson planning, begin by defining specific and measurable learning objectives. Let's consider an example in a history class. Instead of a vague objective like "Students will learn about World War II," you can refine it to "Students will analyse the causes and consequences of World War II, identifying key events and their impact on the global stage." This not only clarifies the destination but also provides a clear sense of purpose by highlighting the importance of understanding the causes and consequences.


Next, think about how you can communicate these objectives to your students at the outset of the lesson. You might introduce the lesson by saying, "Today, we will delve into the causes and consequences of World War II. By the end of this lesson, you'll understand why this war occurred and how it shaped the world we live in today." This brief explanation not only informs students of the destination (the content to be covered) but also articulates the "why" (the significance of the knowledge).


The H Question

How will you hook your students to get and keep their attention?

This question serves as a vital reminder to infuse your lessons with engaging elements that captivate your students' interest right from the start and maintain their focus throughout the lesson. To effectively address this question in your planning, start by brainstorming creative ways to grab your students' attention at the beginning of the lesson. For instance, if you're teaching a science lesson about the solar system, you might begin with a fascinating fact or a captivating image of a celestial event, like a solar eclipse. This intriguing "hook" immediately piques curiosity and draws students into the lesson.


Furthermore, consider how you can sustain their attention throughout the lesson. Think about incorporating interactive activities, discussions, or multimedia resources that align with your lesson objectives. If you're teaching a history lesson about a specific time period, you could use primary source documents, engaging storytelling, or even short video clips to maintain student engagement and connect the historical context to their lives.


Remember that the "hook" doesn't have to be a one-time event. You can strategically sprinkle engaging elements throughout the lesson to rekindle interest and maintain a lively atmosphere. For example, in a language arts class, you might periodically share intriguing quotes or short stories related to the topic you're discussing, ensuring that your students remain engaged and eager to participate.


The First E Question

How will you engage your students in answering the big questions?

This question encourages you to design lessons that not only impart knowledge but also stimulate critical thinking and inquiry. It's about igniting curiosity and providing opportunities for students to grapple with significant, thought-provoking concepts. To effectively address this question, start by identifying the "big questions" related to your lesson topic. These are overarching, open-ended inquiries that require more than a simple yes-or-no answer. For instance, if you're teaching a literature lesson on a classic novel, a big question might be, "How does the protagonist's journey reflect the broader themes of society and human nature?" Once you've defined these questions, plan activities and discussions that prompt students to explore and respond to them.


Consider incorporating Socratic seminars or group discussions where students can engage in meaningful dialogue about these big questions. Encourage them to provide evidence from the text or other sources to support their perspectives. For example, in a history lesson discussing the impact of a historical event, you could organise a debate where students take on different roles and argue their viewpoints, allowing them to engage deeply with the overarching questions.


Furthermore, ensure that your instructional materials and resources are aligned with these big questions. If your lesson revolves around the environment and sustainability, provide articles, videos, or case studies that offer diverse perspectives on the topic. This multifaceted approach encourages students to explore the complexities of the subject matter and actively engage with the big questions.


The R Question

How will you provide time for your students to reflect and allow them opportunities to revise and refine their work?

This question underscores the importance of creating a learning environment that values not only the initial attempt but also the iterative process of learning and improvement. To address this question in your lesson planning, consider building in dedicated moments for reflection throughout your lesson. For instance, in a creative writing class, after students have drafted a short story, allocate time for them to reflect on their own work. Encourage them to identify strengths and weaknesses in their writing, setting the stage for self-assessment. You can then provide them with specific criteria or rubrics to guide their reflections and self-assessment.


Additionally, plan opportunities for peer review and feedback within your lessons. This collaborative approach not only allows students to reflect on their own work but also offers insights into the work of their peers. For example, in a science class, after students complete a lab experiment and record their findings, pair them up to review each other's work. This process encourages students to critically evaluate their own work while providing constructive feedback to their peers.


Furthermore, incorporate revision and refinement into your lesson structure. After students have reflected on their work and received feedback, provide time and guidance for them to make revisions. This might involve revising written assignments, editing and improving projects, or refining solutions to complex problems. By emphasising the importance of revising and refining their work, you instil a growth mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement.


The Second E Question

How will your students exhibit their understanding and how will they receive feedback through self, peer, or teacher evaluation?

This question places a strong emphasis on the assessment and feedback components of your lessons, which are integral to the learning process. To effectively address this question, start by considering the various ways in which your students can demonstrate their comprehension of the material. For instance, in a maths class, you may design a lesson where students are tasked with solving complex problems independently, thus exhibiting their understanding of mathematical concepts. In an English class, you could ask students to write analytical essays that showcase their grasp of literary themes.


Incorporate opportunities for self-assessment into your lessons by providing clear criteria or rubrics that allow students to evaluate their own work. For example, after a science experiment, you might provide a checklist for students to assess whether they followed the scientific method effectively. Encourage them to reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement.


Peer evaluation can also be a powerful tool for learning. Incorporate peer review activities where students assess each other's work using predetermined criteria. This not only promotes a deeper understanding of the subject matter but also fosters valuable skills in providing and receiving constructive feedback.


Finally, ensure that you, as the teacher, are actively involved in the assessment process. Consider using formative assessments such as quizzes, discussions, or classroom observations to gauge student understanding during the lesson. Additionally, provide timely and constructive feedback on assignments and assessments, highlighting strengths and suggesting areas for improvement.


The T Question

How will you tailor the instruction to meet your students’ various needs?

This question underscores the importance of differentiating your teaching to accommodate the diverse learning styles, abilities, and needs of your students, ensuring that every learner has an opportunity to thrive in your classroom.To address this question in your lesson planning, begin by assessing the unique needs of your students. Consider their prior knowledge, skill levels, and learning preferences. For instance, if you're teaching a science lesson about photosynthesis, some students may have a strong background in biology, while others might be less familiar with the topic. Design activities and resources that cater to these differences. Advanced students could engage in deeper discussions or research projects, while those needing additional support might benefit from simplified explanations and visual aids.


Utilise a variety of instructional strategies to reach all learners. For example, in a history lesson, you could combine traditional lectures with multimedia resources, group discussions, and hands-on activities. This allows students with different learning styles to engage with the content in ways that suit them best.


Furthermore, consider incorporating flexible grouping strategies that allow students to work at their own pace and collaborate with peers who share similar needs. This could involve small group rotations, where you provide targeted instruction and practice opportunities to different groups based on their specific requirements.


The O Question

How will your students organise their learning experiences so that understanding is reached?

This question underscores the significance of promoting active engagement and self-directed learning among your students, ultimately empowering them to construct their understanding of the content. To effectively address this question in your lesson planning, encourage your students to take an active role in organising their learning experiences. Start by providing clear objectives and learning outcomes at the beginning of the lesson. This sets a clear destination for their learning journey. For instance, in a science class discussing the water cycle, you might state the objective as, "By the end of this lesson, you will be able to diagram and explain the key processes of the water cycle."


Next, facilitate opportunities for students to plan and manage their learning processes. Encourage them to set goals, create study schedules, and select resources or strategies that align with their learning preferences. For example, in a language arts lesson centred on reading comprehension, students could choose from a list of novels to read and analyse, allowing them to tailor their learning experience to their interests.


Incorporate reflective activities at various points during the lesson, where students can assess their progress and adjust their learning strategies accordingly. This might include journaling, self-assessment quizzes, or group discussions where they share their insights and challenges.

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