What should I know about my students before creating lessons?

You already know how important it is to have information about the students you are or will be teaching. This information should include, but not be limited to, the student's (a) family, cultural, and linguistic background, (b) existing and new assessments, and (c) specialized needs identified for students who have disabilities.

Factual Information

Family, Cultural, and Linguistic Background

Understanding and being sensitive to a child's background and experiences are very important to your ability to teach him or her. Your understanding and sensitivity are also important to a student's ability to learn what you are teaching. The Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE) lists five standards for effective pedagogy: (a) teachers and students working together, (b) developing language and literacy skills across the curriculum, (c) connecting lessons to students' lives, (d) engaging students with challenging lessons, and (e) emphasizing dialogue over lectures. The website includes basic information and research on the five standards, one of which is Making Meaning: Connecting Lessons to Students' Lives. The standard offers eight "Indicators of Contextualization" that are strategies teachers can use to connect lessons to students' lives and prior knowledge.

In addition to the strategies suggested by CREDE, you will find information on Knowledge Loom, which is a website hosted by The Education Alliance at Brown University. This information will help you in offering a culturally responsive curriculum to your students. The resource contains principles of culturally responsive teaching, examples, and online resources to support culturally responsive teaching.

Existing and New Assessments

In addition to understanding each child's family, cultural, and linguistic background, you will need to know how each child is functioning in major areas of development -- intellectually, socially, and physically. It will be important to review formal and informal assessments that are already available in a child's file. For students who are identified as eligible for special education services, it is recommended that you review these materials with a special education teacher in your school. In addition, you will learn even more about a child by conducting your own informal classroom observations and assessments so that you can be sure that your lessons meet the individual needs of each child. While this section will not provide extensive information about assessment, the Classroom Assessment (Part 1) module, one of the Star Legacy Modules at the Iris Center at Vanderbilt University, provides basic information regarding monitoring academic achievement in the classroom.

Specialized Needs Identified for Students who Have Disabilities

Each student in your class who has been identified as having a disability will have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The IEP will include a description of the specialized needs for students who have disabilities. It is often helpful to review each student's IEP with a special education colleague in your school to ensure you understand the responsibilities assigned to you in the student's IEP. The United States Department of Education website contains basic information about the IEP.

Classroom Activities

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Resources and Links

  • The Theory Into Practice Database provides information on over 50 theories relevant to learning and instruction. This database is a good place to start if you are looking for basic information on theories of learning.
  • The Access Center is a national technical assistance center that supports states and local districts in their move to help students with disabilities effectively learn in the general education curriculum. Resources are listed by specific content as well as by strategy.
  • The Special Connections website is housed at the University of Kansas. The site addresses four main areas: Instruction, Assessment, Behavior Plans, and Collaboration. Best practices are identified within each of these four areas and nationally recognized experts created materials for a module about that topic. Teacher tools for implementing specific practices, case study materials, and references and resources related to each practice are provided in each module.
  • The Council for Exceptional Children provides information on instructional strategies and instruction within specific content areas.