Plan the Year: Figure out the big rocks first

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After procrastinating gloriously all summer long, I finally hunkered down at the beginning of August to start making some concrete plans for the school year ahead. It turned out to be a long, involved process that may be worth repeating and tweaking in the future. (I’d love some feedback). Here’s what I did (blog post series!):

Figure out the big rocks first

table balance of rocks

The metaphor here is that when building, you want to figure out what the materials and resources are that you have available to you, especially the biggest building blocks that you’re going to have to use. My English class is basically built around units of books, and so I begin by defining the basic shape and scope of each of those individual literature units.

What does this mean? Well, I like to organize all my information in DevonThink, which I highly recommend, but one can easily adapt another information repository using a piece of software, or simply file folders — physical or virtual. Prior to digitizing everything on my Mac, I simply had bulging manila folders in a file cabinet. In fact, I haven’t thrown those away yet.

I make a folder for each literature unit that I’ve done, or will do, or may possibly do in the future. Within that folder I include a generic reading schedule for that book, figuring that I generally assign about 20 pages of reading a night. I’ll then do several initial internet searches to see what is out there in terms of resources for the book: author web sites, lesson plans, essays, Sparknotes, whatever. Anything I find useful I clip and add to the folder.

Over the course of time, I’ll add worksheets, activities, projects that I’ve tried out as well as the occasional idea that I haven’t yet tried out. Samples of student work and personal pedagogical reflections sometimes also makes it into the folders. Anything that shows up in my feed or random web grazings that pop out as relevant gets thrown in there. In not too long a time, these little folders will start bulging with a potpourri of possibilities.

The key, I’ve found, is to make it easy to keep this habit of filing relevant information. I resist the temptation to organize the mishmash of stuff beyond the basic categories of book units because I know my tendency to do so obsessively one moment and not sustain that energy to do so the next. Instead, I try to work that tendency to my advantage by making it dead simple to “file it and forget it” most of the time, and then use a manic moment in the summer to sift through the stockpiles. Which is what I’ll cover next…

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