Most teachers plan school years based on their textbook’s “official” order and agenda. This isn’t bad, but it tends to fall short on allowing for individual needs and considering the skills needed for the following year. The lessons covered in each textbook are critical, but to maximize development of the skills necessary to move forward, teachers would be well advised to plan the year backwards. The ‘Bring Forward” system emphasizes what skills will be steadily increased to keep students prepared for each New Year.
The “Bring Forward” concept is simple, based on the proven method of solidifying goals before laying out the tasks along the path. As a teacher, begin each year’s lesson planning by determining what skills and knowledge should be mastered by students by the time they complete your grade level. For example, if you teach fourth grade, ask the fifth-grade teachers in your school what they hope each year’s new students will have mastered before the first day of class. (You probably know how it feels to have a roomful of new students who make you wonder if the third-grade teachers know what they’re doing!) Find out what the “next level up” teachers see as the greatest challenges for their classes, and how skill and knowledge deficits have affected past class years. Instead of looking only at the curricula for your grade level, read the actual textbooks for the next level (and perhaps the one below) as well.
Once you know what skills and knowledge levels should be instilled in your class by the end of this year, you can better determine what time of year you will need to focus on each stage that leads up to mastering those skills. Set dates by which each major step needs to be mastered, then work backwards to build in the lessons and topics that will build those skills in at the right times. Leave a margin for adjustment; some skills will be mastered more slowly or quickly than anticipated, and some course corrections are always necessary.
You may be surprised, especially once the year is underway and you’re getting to know your individual students’ learning styles, how much your class’s best calendar differs from the suggested scope and sequence in the mass-produced textbook. You may have to change the suggested order of the textbook to make your lesson plans flow more smoothly for your specific classroom and for the strengths and weaknesses of each group of students.
Often, teaching in a school as a whole is made more difficult because each teacher looks at his or her own instructional year in isolation. Instead, look at your academic year as the students do: one leg in a relay race. It’s your job to manage the skills, strengths, speed, and accuracy of the leg you’re on, and to prepare yourself to hand off the baton to the next leg in the race. ‘Bring Forward’ makes this much easier, and the scope of your classroom instruction much more thorough.