Lessons are not the main focus of the Learning Cultures curriculum. Unlike the traditional linear transmission curriculum—where teacher-led lessons are considered to be the primary site of learning—the most powerful learning in a Learning Cultures classroom occurs in the other formats where children are more actively engaged. In Learning Cultures classrooms, whole-class lesson time is kept to a strict minimum. The Lesson Rubric should be used to guide the implementation of the Lesson format.
Each activity block begins with a short, 5-10 minute lesson (approximately 10% of the Activity Block), the content of which is determined by the teacher and based on both the needs of students and formal learning standards.
Learning Cultures lessons are always relevant to children’s existing interests and needs. To keep lessons relevant, we practice grass roots lesson planning— grass roots because the content is harvested from teachers’ direct interactions with students. Teachers make observations of students while they are engaged in curriculum activities during Work Time or Group Work. They watch for situations in which students demonstrate new competencies that align with formal learning expectations. Teachers present lessons as narratives that are of interest to the classroom community as a whole, and incorporate data from their observations into lesson material.
The Learning Cultures model includes two types of lessons: Content Lessons and Routines and Social Processes Lessons (RaSP).
Content lessons focus on the what—people, places and things that constitute disciplinary knowledge and the skills and strategies needed to master that knowledge. Many content lessons will be of a grass roots variety. But occasionally teachers will find the need to teach content that has not yet been exhibited in classroom situations. When this is the case, it’s important to remember that the more the lesson content can be contextualized in real-life, social situations, the more likely it is to be remembered by the students.
Content lessons should meet the following specifications:
Lesson Specification 1: Content is derived from teachers’ observations of students’ competencies (instances in which students are striving to accomplish some goal and succeeding).
Lesson Specification 2: Lesson content relates to a formal expectation or learning standard.
As you begin to use the Standards Inventory forms as a reference in Learning Conferences (see Learning Conferences), you will become familiar with the language of the standards while being able to recognize when students are demonstrating behaviors that meet standards expectations.
When presenting the lesson, use the precise terminology as it appears in the standards documents to explain lesson content. Clear understanding is enhanced by the use of precise terminology. If students do not understand a word, explain it. Conceptual development evolves through language, and simplifying language risks diluting the deeper meaning that a word is intended to convey.
Lesson Specification 3: Make sure lessons are relevant. Lessons should incorporate strategies that are likely to be useful to most students in the classroom.
To summarize, in planning Content Lessons, teachers will collect an observation of a student accomplishing an academic goal or demonstrating a competence. By using precise terminology, teachers relate this observation to formal expectations. Teachers then provide suggestions about how students can meet goals and achieve formal expectations by applying the focus skill or idea. Large-group lesson topics are selected because they have broad relevance and are useful to most students in the classroom.
Routines and social processes lessons (RaSP)
RaSP lessons focus on how students should act as productive participants in the classroom community. Learning Cultures is a curriculum of social practices, and the expectations for responsible participation in classroom practices is a primary curriculum concern. RaSP lessons are norming mechanisms that help to establish desired attitudes, behaviors and practices within the classroom community.
Large-group instruction in the content subjects may occasionally require more than the 10% segment of the Activity Block. In this case, keep lesson time to a minimum in order to preserve extended time for students to work independently. Presentation lessons should not extend beyond 20-25 minutes.
Lesson planning as teacher professional development
The Learning Cultures lesson planning process supports professional development in that it requires systematic reflection on student assessment. Given that lesson preparation requires teachers to access assessment records and make a selection of the most impressive competencies children demonstrate, systematic analysis of assessment records is integrated into the lesson planning system.