An Easy System for Keeping Your Daily Lessons Organized (Case #2 of Putting Systems Thinking to Practice)

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In a recent post, I discussed creating simple systems to help you work more effectively and reduce unnecessary cognitive load. It isn’t necessary to read that post to benefit from this post. But, I encourage you to save it to read some time. It is a bit long.

In the previous post in this 3-part series, I discussed how to save time by removing bottlenecks when setting up meetings with students.

In this final post, I’m going to present how I set up and keep my classes organized using a template system. For me, using this basic system means I can be prepare for today’s class with just a few quick minutes of review. Remember, systems are ideal for dealing with repeated, predictable problems. The problem we all face as educators is, “What are we doing today in class?”

First, some quick background. I’m a planner. I plan my classes (usually in the summer), meaning that I can look at my syllabus and know what we are going to cover on every day of the semester. This has its benefits but also some drawbacks. The benefits are related to 1) time management and 2) the ability to build the class to maximize the opportunity each day presents. It is of course easier to plan a class in the summer when you have less going on and focus on executing the class in the fall when there are many other demands on your time. Also, because I know what will happen each day, I can have semester-long projects with many parts that all inter-relate. And, the daily activities and lectures can be designed to cover the materials to support those projects. In terms of drawbacks, my approach allows for less flexibility when it comes to bringing in emerging topics, or adapting to student time needs, etc. So, I find it is important to build in a little flexibility if you take the approach I do.

In the sense that every day of the semester has a plan, I need a quick and efficient way to know what we’re going to be covering on any given day in class. There are many ways one could approach this problem. Here is how I do it.

I create a binder for each class. In the binder, I have a Word document for each day. The document is built using a template I created. I simply use a tab to mark what day of the semester we are on. And, before the class I open the binder to the page of the day of class we are on and review the day’s notes.

When I create my plan for each day of class, I simply create a file using the Word document template for that day. I save each day as a separate file, ordering the files by lecture number. So, the first day of class is lecture 1 and so on. This all goes into a folder named for the class.

The template contains 7 key components – many of which are not used every day. They are:

  • Topic – the lecture day number so I know what it is when it is printed and in my binder. I’ll also have a few words on what topic we’ll be covering that day.
  • Slides –I use Powerpoint slides for my lecture notes and for any in-class activities for which I will need instructions. For example, if we are doing a “simultaneous response” activity or any other educational activity or game, I put the instructions on the slides. So, if there is any lecture notes that day, I’ll have a slidedeck. Note: I name the Powerpoint for a day’s lecture the same file name as the Word document. So, Lecture 1.ppt, Lecture 2.ppt and so on (see example below). Thus, when looking at the folder on my computer, I see: Lecture 1.doc and Lecture 1.ppt one atop the other so that the Word and Powerpoint files are ordered sequentially in the folder.

example-lecture-folder

  • Supplies Needed: I provide the computer filename for any assignments, handouts or activities that I’ll be handing out in class that day. For example, if I am assigning a project and I know I need to print a copy of the assignment, I’d have the filename listed so I can easily find it in my “assignments” subfolder in the folder for that class on my computer. I’ll note any other needed supplies here as well such as if I need any props for class activities or any technology needs I need to bring.
  • Activities: I note any in-class activities we have planned. For example, if we were doing a “simultaneous response” activity or an exam review, it is listed here.
  • Assignments: There are 2 categories here. Assign and due. If I’m assigning something that day, I write “Assign” in front of it. If it is due that day, I write “Due” in front of it.
  • Notes: Random reminders and notes to self about the class that day. For example, I’d add notes if I need to remind students about an upcoming deadline, or if there was a website I wanted to be sure to show, or things we need to be sure to cover in class that aren’t on my lecture slides. I even put notes to myself. For example, I may remind myself I need to write an exam that students will be taking in a few weeks.
  • Under the notes section, I leave a blank space to put any announcements I need to post onto our course management system. By having these pre-written where possible, I can quickly post them to the course management page by loading the document on my computer and cutting and pasting the text into our CMS.

Below is an example of my “Lecture 14 – promoting social media offline” day from my social media class (syllabus | all posts about the class). A few quick explanations: Students give presentations during part of the class. So I need to bring a way of taking notes on their presentations. I have a form that other students fill out to give feedback to the group presenting. And, I need to provide students with the group report card so they can evaluate one-another. The “Content Period #1” assignment is due that day. The notes are to myself, reminding me that there is a brief lecture that day after presentations and that I need to grade the presentations to prepare for an upcoming class.

If you’d like to download a blank copy of the template I’ve discussed in this post, you can below.

As I said in my post on using systems: “Using your memory when you don’t need to unnecessarily uses your energy and time.” Using this template helps me quickly prepare for a day of class. I spend about 5-10 minutes before going into class reviewing the Word document plan for that day and doing anything needed to prepare, such as printing anything or loaded any announcements. During this time, I also load up the day’s Powerpoint slides and quickly review the lecture to job my memory.

In summary, as an educator you have too much going on every day during the semester to be scrambling around trying to figure out what you are going to be teaching in class. Good news. You can solve this repeated, predictable problem with a template system.

– Cheers!
Matt

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