music calendar

Making It Work: Long Range Planning

Making It Work:
Getting Started With Long Range Planning

When I began my teaching career I was working in a large county school district, on a cart, in three schools with almost no resources before the dawn of the Internet. I would hear about teachers who were “long range planning” and was completely mystified as to how one would even begin that process. I was struggling not to drown! When I got a few years under my belt long range planning started to make more sense. After taking Orff Level I, I was not sure how I had gotten by for so long without planning ahead. For me, long-range planning does not mean that I don’t write daily lesson plans but that I know where we are headed, what concepts are coming next, and how much time we need to get there.  It is important that my plan is flexible and allows for changes, differentiation or improvements and leaves space for new ideas. Here is how I approach my long-range plans.

We teach on a four-day rotation schedule.  The first step is to go through the calendar and count how many class periods I will have in each marking period.  Next I factor in when I have performances and block off some time to prepare for our presentations. Now that I have a solid estimate of contact time for each grade level I can determine what content we will explore and when we will tackle each concept. I list the content, concepts and vocabulary for each marking period.  Then I choose lessons, songs and projects to reinforce my choices, outline or revise the necessary formative and summative assessments and pencil in approximate target dates to administer assessments in order to be prepared for report card deadlines. Lastly, I add music and cross-curricular standards to the final document.

We take a project-based approach, and my long-term plans are an outline, not detailed daily plans. Our “performances” are student generated, and not separate from our curricular goals. When I mention that I block out time to prepare for performances, I am making sure to begin the project early enough for it to be complete on the assigned date and ready for the stage. I am required to schedule concerts in May before the upcoming school year. When I was teaching elsewhere and had to schedule concerts “as we go” I would pencil in dates when I would like to schedule performances. It was a little less precise and sometimes I had to adjust. Prior to implementing a long-range planning strategy I was often scrambling at the end of each marking period to be prepared for report cards. Now I seldom have last minute assessing or grading to complete. I am confident that I have allowed enough time to be prepared for performances and presentations and I am more relaxed with the students when we are working.

Each school, district or state will differ in the best way to approach long-range planning. I have a lot of flexibility in my curriculum choices; others have a more prescribed curriculum or more guidelines on which concepts should be taught when. In my previous school district I did not have a schedule sometimes until the morning of the first day of school. I was not able to gauge contact time as accurately. I did find it helpful to have a basic outline of teaching ideas and projects for each grade level. It took some of the pressure off of daily planning. I often had to add or take away from my long-range plan, and it was easier to edit than start over every week. I became much more consistent in meeting learning goals with my students even in an ever changing teaching situation. The best part is, after the first year it becomes easier to edit and modify long-range plans leaving more time to enjoy your students.

Please share your strategies and resources for long-range planning in the comments below.  My ideas may not work in some situations, and your solution may be just the inspiration someone needs to successfully plan ahead. If you have obstacles to long-range planning or questions leave those in the comments below too. We can all put our heads together to “Make It Work”!

LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Elizabeth Caldwell on July 28, 2016 at 4:34 am

    Great thoughts and suggestions! I also start by blocking off performances and other deadlines, plus any units/ lessons that I know I want to teach at a certain time because it connects with a holiday, event, or season. I wrote a blog post with my own process for long-range planning here:

    • LeslieAnne Bird on August 2, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks for sharing your process! The more ideas the merrier!

    • Jeremy Hill on August 16, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I just purchased your Long-Range Planning and Core Arts integration templates. I look forward to using these in my organization this year.

      • Lupe on December 28, 2017 at 4:27 pm

        where did you purchase the templates?

  2. Julia on August 1, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Do you have a spreadsheet that you use to set this all out? I am trying to picture how this looks and how I can make something to show my admin that will not be confusing. Thanks for this post as well. This has been the best breakdown I have seen of how to go about doing this!

    • LeslieAnne Bird on August 2, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      Thank you Julia! Since the four day rotation was my idea, I volunteered to create a calendar that blocks off all of our PD days and days off and then add the A,B,C,D rotation. I found a one page calendar on Teachers Pay Teachers for $1, and it is just a table in Word. I use the calendar to count out how many class periods I will have in each marking period. Then I use the templates in Tim Purdum’s Book Creative Sequence (featured in our post from last week) to organize my ideas. He also has a lesson planning app by the same name. Happy planning!

  3. Janet Cruse on August 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks, LeslieAnne, for sharing your great ideas for keeping on top of curriculum, performances and reporting. To map out my year, I use Backward Design. My 1st and 2nd grade concerts are in early December. The content integrates music and classroom standards and requires close and timely collaboration with classroom teachers. I use a Google spreadsheet for my curriculum map so it’s easy to edit and view on devices. Each grade level has it’s own sheet. Column Headers are dates for each lesson; Row Headers are 1) Rhythm, 2) Melody, 3) Other. Freezing the headers makes it easy to track what I’m looking at.

  4. Jeremy Hill on August 16, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Thanks, Leslie Anne! It is helpful to hear your process for organizing the yearly calendar to include performance and assessment dates, and for providing a timeline to address skills and concepts.

  5. Karin Llyr on August 9, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    “I am making sure to begin the project early enough for it to be complete on the assigned date and ready for the stage.” I know you’re on a rotation but how much time do you allow for student-generated performances?

    • LeslieAnne Bird on August 27, 2018 at 7:19 pm

      Hello Karin! I use embedded projects as what we use to put on the stage for performances. (See my blog post on planning performances!) Depending on the project it could be anywhere from 6-10 lessons. Most of those lessons we will only spend a portion of the class time on the project and work on other skills and topics as well. I usually only spend two complete classes on something we perform.

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