Jill Doga, the Director of Technology at Acadia Parish Schools in Crowley, La., loves being able to share lesson plans online in her rural school district.

Working Smarter

Schools are filled with an ever-increasing number of challenges. Web-based lesson plans can make life easier for both teachers and administrators.

Schools are filled with an ever-increasing number of challenges. Web-based lesson plans can make life easier for both teachers and administrators.

Each fall, teachers and administrators are faced with another year of challenges: high-stakes testing, ever-increasing school performance targets, standards-based instruction, more public demand for accountability, and ever-growing paperwork. While such challenges will always surround education, the impact of these particular challenges can be greatly diminished by the use of appropriate technology tools for lesson plan development and standards tracking.

Though technology is employed in virtually every area of education today, the writing of lesson plans remains substantially “bound” by traditional paper lesson plan books. Schools have been quick to adopt electronic grade books and student management systems, but lesson plan software has been slower to take hold. Many schools that apply technology to the lesson planning process use word processing templates, making the process more efficient, but still falling short of providing a complete, managed online system. However, the current crop of Web-based lesson planning programs bring efficiency, flexibility and complete standards tracking and analysis to the lesson plan process.

Faculty Efficiency and Collaboration

The paperwork load on teachers and administrators makes it essential that they use the most efficient tools possible for daily tasks. The custom forms provided by online lesson planners greatly increase data entry speed and lesson plan development over traditional paper or word processing template plans. Most lesson plan software displays a screen that looks similar to traditional plan books but provides all the efficiency of a word processor. Additionally, if needed, daily plans can simply be copied from class to class or week to week.

Most programs allow teachers to insert lesson resource documents in a PDF or word processing format directly into the online plan. “Teachers like the storage space for documents, pictures, PowerPoint slides, etc.,” says Joyce Thompson, technology trainer for Alachua County Public Schools in Gainesville, Fla. “When linked to homework, parents and students have easy access to [these] materials.” Thompson likes the flexibility that anytime, anywhere access to plans provides to her teachers. The teachers now have “access to plans at home, school or even on vacation! This allows for easy updating for substitute planning should the teacher be absent.”

Customizable templates provide the teachers with a personalized, easy-to-use form designed to meet their specific needs. Templates can be created for different types and grade levels of teachers.

The more comprehensive Web-based systems allow plans to be shared among teachers, leading to more cooperative planning and collaborative teaching. Because all plans are in an online database, teachers can share their best plans across the school and district. This facilitates the building of a shared collection of lesson plans, helping to ensure a standard of excellence across the school or district.

One person who appreciates the sharing feature is Jill Doga, director of technology for Acadia Parish Schools in Crowley, La. “Teachers can plan their lessons in grade-level meetings and share their final plans [on the Web],” Doga says. “Sharing lessons across our rural district connects the lone grade-level teacher at a school with others of similar grade levels, establishing a network of educators all striving for excellence. Teachers with homebound students use [the software] to review their students’ lesson plans, enabling them to keep their students on track with their home-based classwork.”

Doga and her team created data sets of state curricula standards to help teachers map lessons to state standards and allow them to quickly and easily include the standards in the plan. The team also developed a series of templates: one for regular classroom teachers, one for special education teachers, and one for homebound teachers. Each template calls for the same pieces of information — helping to ensure lesson plan consistency throughout the district.

Accountability to Standards

With the increased accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind mandates, districts are searching for ways to document standards-based instruction. There is no better indicator of which standards are actually being taught than teacher lesson plans.

Many of the more comprehensive Web-based systems can align plans with virtually any state’s standards. Teachers can pick and choose the state standards to include in each lesson with a few clicks of the mouse. Once the standards are inserted into the plans, comprehensive reporting functions allow the tracking of the standards that have been taught, those that have been skipped, and how many times individual standards have been addressed.

Such systems offer “the ability to document what state standard student learning expectations were taught and when,” explains Alvin Lievsay, superintendent of the Huntsville (Ark.) School District. He says such systems can help bring his district to a higher level of curriculum alignment. “We see [these] programs to be supportive of our alignment efforts. ... Each lesson plan will continue to document the standards.”

Administrative Accountability

One of the most onerous and time-consuming jobs of the school administrator is the periodic review, correction and approval of lesson plans. Online lesson plan systems provide an easy method for checking and approving plans. Plans can now be reviewed from school, home or any convenient place, with no paper to shuffle.

Parents and communities are becoming more involved with the educational process than ever before. With online access to virtually all aspects of their lives, many parents are now asking for similar services from their schools. To meet this demand, some systems make it easy for teachers to publish lesson plans and homework assignments to class Web sites for parent access. Not only can the plan and homework be published, but any supporting documents or Web resources can be included as well. With access via the Web to such information, parents are better prepared to help their children with homework.

Doga says these programs help maintain accountability with parents regarding what is being taught in the classroom and “provide an innovative Web tool for communication [among] three different groups — teachers to parents and students, teachers and administrators, and teachers and their colleagues.”

With Web-based planners, teachers are no longer “bound” to the limitation of the traditional plan book. Teacher lesson plans contain a goldmine of invaluable instructional data that simply needs to be managed and tracked. If staff efficiency, standards tracking, collaborative planning, systemwide lesson quality and parental communication are important, then the current slate of Web-based lesson planners warrants a closer look.

12 Reasons to Switch

If you’re still not convinced of the benefits of Web-based lesson planners, consider a dozen reasons why such systems can benefit both administrators and teachers.

Administrators

1. Lesson plans can be reviewed and feedback provided online.

2. Standards being taught can be tracked and how standards are addressed analyzed.

3. Lessons can be mapped to state standards.

4. Web-based planning can improve collaboration and communication among staff, parents and students.

Teachers

5. Teachers save time over the paper process.

6. Web allows custom plan templates.

7. Plans can be archived from one year to the next.

8. Access to plans is available anytime, anywhere.

9. Homework assignments can be included in lesson plans.

10. Lesson plans and homework automatically flow to class Web site, allowing for better parental involvement.

11. Parents and students can access assignments and homework from home.

12. Lesson plans are easily saved and shared among colleagues.

<p>JACKSON HILL</p>
Jul 23 2007

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