Let the Class Tell You What to Teach

Last week we talked about what students need to know and how to get there. In some other classes, I’ve been told pre-assessments, such as quizzes before a unit, or studying the curriculum a class just completed are some of the best ways to gauge where your students’ learning is. I agree that these methods, and similar ones, could be useful. However, my mindset is more aligned with the quote Dr. Ellington wrote on the board:

“There is no curriculum more powerful than a close and careful study of your kids.”

~ A Mindset for Learning

Our eyes can do more work faster than any printed quiz ever will. By looking around your classroom during silent reading time you can see the basics; who likes to read, who is distracted, who is faking, who isn’t even trying. Then take a look at the covers. What do they like to read about? How advanced are they? I know this isn’t an accurate representation of their knowledge, most books I read are probably below my comprehension level so why should I expect my students to be reading at their highest level all the time? I don’t. So talk to them. Have a class discussion about what they know, what topics they are comfortable with and which they are unfimilar or struggling. IF the atmosphere is unwelcoming of this conversation, have them write it down for you to model the lessons. Being honest with your class, letting them know you are asking for their benefit, will hand you the most honest answers.

You have a record of where your students are on a topic, now what? Compare what they know to the unit plan you have created. The unit plan is a block of the building blocks we learned about. Their purpose is to organize your teaching over the course of the year, as seen in the image below.



I tried so hard to make a digital version of this, but, on the bright side, I have nice penmanship.


Now you can teach the students from a consensus starting point within the plans you have created. Units are the time-bound focused study of a topic. If a widely misunderstood subtopic needs to be reviewed (per discussion), a mini-lesson would be a swell idea, which could double as a daily lesson.

By simply understanding our students, we can personalize your yearly plans to fit their learning needs. I know this is probably easier said than done, but knowing the process now is better than having to create it my first or second year of teaching.



2 thoughts on “Let the Class Tell You What to Teach

  1. Elisabeth Ellington says:

    I had to write that quote from A Mindset for Learning on the whiteboard for two classes in a row because I think it’s just so important. I need to be listening to what my students are telling me they need to learn, what they’re ready to learn, rather than listening to canned curriculum from a publishing company. My eyes are absolutely my best teaching tool. I’m a firm believer in kidwatching. I think I need to write a blog post about that!


  2. Ali Meyer says:

    Totally agree with you! I also really like how Dr. E used her first assignment (the autobiography) to learn more about her students in a pre-assessment type of way. It’s so much different than just giving them a test about what they know – it’s actually telling you WAY more than that! I also love what you say about watching your students. Our eyes are definitely are best tool. There have been times that we’ve been sitting in Block and I’ve noticed tons of glazed over faces that are reading to move on to the next lesson. But the teachers don’t see that – they just want to spew out as much information as possible, over and over to get it into our heads. There is so much that you can learn just by watching your students – even if they aren’t trying to tell you anything. Awesome blog!


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