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Thursday, June 29, 2017

The “Umami” Lesson Plan
a.k.a. The Perfect Lesson Plan

My wife and I traveled to the wine country in Napa, California, last summer to check off a “bucket list” item of mine. While there, we experienced a wine and food pairing at the Silver Oak winery, where we learned so much. The main takeaway for me was learning the five tastes we all have: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and the one I had never heard of — Umami.

Umami is synonymous with the taste of perfection — a wine at its apex of flavor maturity and quality. Linguists have suggested that Umami (pronounced oo-mom'-ee) has English equivalents, such as savory, essence, … deliciousness. .. Umami is associated with an experience of perfect quality in a taste. It is also said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste. In the Asian context there is both a spiritual and mystical quality to Umami. In the West it has been controversial  whether it is also said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste. In wine, Umami is said to have depth and complexity. Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this?

In my presentation, “The Neurocardiologist Leader/Teacher,” I use this slide as a template for a perfect lesson plan for any grade and any subject.

There are three main components to this lesson plan: teacher, student, and content.  All three must intersect for that perfect plan to result. Each touches the other in different but very important ways. Included in the circles are rigor, relevance and relationships. Although there is a plethora of presentations, frameworks, and conferences on rigor, relevance, and relationships, you will see that this explanation is quite simple and easy to understand. 

It all begins with the teacher developing positive relationships with her students. I recently heard a speech Victor Mendoza, an AVID graduate from McKinney, Texas, at the Dallas AVID Summer Institute. He said that there is an “emptiness or gray area” between the teacher and student until that teacher develops a positive relationship with him. I cannot stress enough the importance of this foundation as it is THE most important piece. Neuroscience supports this as well, as the brain continually looks for relationships.

The next important piece is the relevance of the lesson. I have it intersected with student as it must be relevant to the student so he connects the content to himself. The teacher should strive to share stories in her presentation of the lesson, as the brain loves a good story. Stories touch the emotions and emotions are the gateway to to the brain and learning. Also included in that intersection is student choice. Sometimes it is not possible/feasible  to allow students to have a choice in content, but the teacher should always look for this possibility, as this provides ownership to the learner and adds to the Umami lesson. With the content circle is depth/complexity. Though all educators understand the term “rigor,” lately has been given a bad rap (at least on Twitter). So I choose to use depth and complexity to the content/objective which aligns with my Umami example. Bottom line: rise above knowledge and comprehension on Bloom’s. In my presentation, I use another slide to compare depth/complexity to difficulty. I will not delve into that in this article, but in short, depth/complexity/rigor is NOT more and is different from difficult! 

I keep rigor in the intersection between the student and teacher to note how the teacher questions the students when she checks for understanding, to move her students above knowledge/comprehension, above level one on Costa’s, and preferably to level three or four in Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. The teacher must be intentional with  her questions. Included in this same intersection — “respond,” so that there is a time for students to respond to the teacher about the objective (preferably in some kind of written form). This is a great way to formative assess the level of understanding and application to the objective. 

In the middle, where all three intersect are three words: “relationships,” “engagement,” and “Umami.” Relationships are not just between the teacher and student (although this is the most important) but also between the student and the content, as well. The learner must have that relationship for the lesson to reach to the Umami level. The second is engagement. Students will find something with which to engage. All students are engaged! They may or may not be engaged in the teacher’s lesson, but they are engaged. This plan will ensure that the learner is engaged in the teacher’s objective.

The one ingredient I didn’t include in the above illustration is movement. There must be some kind of movement or brain breaks. Get students to move! In a 45-55 minute lesson there should be at least two brain breaks where students should get out of their desks and move.

In this presentation I first ask the question, “How many of you believe there is no such thing as a lazy student?” I never get 100%, until I add “when engaged with a relevant lesson?” At that point, 100% are in agreement. If the teacher includes all of the attributes I have outlined, she will have a Umami lesson. A lesson that has “depth and complexity, taste of perfection, the apex of flavor, maturity, and quality, a deliciousness… what teacher does not want that? What student does not want that?

By Hal Roberts author of the book Pirate On!

Hal is a retired superintendent after 38 years. He speaks on leadership and neuroscience, and offers a half-day PD where he shows the relationship on both. It is informative, fun, and interactive.