Consider the following scenarios:
You have spent hours preparing to teach a hands-on lesson to your class. You checked the content standards, understood the career and technical concepts, and have given thought to the materials you can use and the technology that will help. You even have a plan to help the diverse learners in your class. You located a great demonstration online and watched the video several times. Using the textbook as your instructional aide, you stand in front of your class and attempt the demonstration just as the video showed you. However, due to the time it took to prepare the lesson, locate the materials, and set everything up, you didn’t have time to practice or you don’t have enough materials to repeat the demonstration outside of the classes you intend to do it for.
You have spent hours preparing to teach a hands-on lesson to your class. You checked the content standards, understood the career and technical concepts that will be used in the lesson, and have given thought to the materials you can use and the technology that will help. You even have a plan to help the diverse learners in your class. Using the textbook as your instructional aide, you present the examples found in the textbook and walk your students through the steps needed to solve the problem presented. You even address the core concepts, and your students nod their understanding. You ask your students if they have any questions and having none, you have them copy another example problem from the board and ask them to solve it on their paper. As you walk around the room, you notice some students struggling and you stop to offer some guidance. Others seem to be working diligently but you can tell they are stalling until you go through the steps in class. Others just aren’t sure where to start and you decide it’s time to walk them through the example on the board. As you work through this example, as you did the others, some students will make the connection and are off on their own, still others need more guidance. You decide to give students their homework assignment while also offering to work through another example for those students who feel the need to see it again. At this point, you have worked through the examples provided in the book and you decide to randomly choose a problem from the textbook or make one up on the fly.
In considering each of these scenarios, can you see where the challenges may arise? These two scenarios seem very different from one another. It might be obvious that a teacher who hasn’t practiced a demonstration would have some challenges. However, could the teacher who randomly chooses a problem from the book or makes one up on the fly encounter trouble in doing so? Often, we assume that choosing a problem from the textbook should be a simple source for practice problems. After all, the textbook company never makes mistakes and always includes problems that your students, or you, should be able to easily solve using their newly acquired skills, right? What about that problem they just made up? It won’t introduce a skill that you haven’t taught yet and should be easy to solve, right? What about the student who brings their work up to you later, maybe even after school or the next day, to ask a question and you have nothing to refer to and it is clear they are missing some key information.
Whether you are teaching content that is new to you, teaching the same concepts and skills for a long time using an old textbook or curriculum that you have been using for a while, or using a new textbook, taking the time to prepare fully for class should be a priority. That preparation includes not only knowing the concepts and feeling confident in being able to teach them but also means that you have thoroughly prepared for the instruction and the questions your students will have during class but also about the homework. Your students trust that you have the skills to teach them the content and that you are asking them to complete homework that is within their reach.
A key to keeping that trust is that you have also done your homework ahead of time and completed their homework as well. In addition to preparing for the lesson, your homework should include having multiple examples at the ready, which you have also solved using the same skills and knowledge you expect your students to have. This cache of examples can be used as refreshers and tutoring aides if they aren’t needed during the lesson itself.
In addition to preparing examples, it is good practice for you, the trusted educator, to complete the homework assignment you are assigning. By doing so, you ensure that the assignment can be completed in a reasonable amount of time, and you can also see where the challenges might be and can address them before they become stumbling blocks for students working independently. In addition, it is not uncommon to have errors in the answer keys provided by the publisher. Having discovered incorrect answers, and preparing students ahead of time, can also prevent any number of issues.