There’s been a lot of talk lately in the tefl twitter and blogospheres about the importance (or unimportance) of lesson planning. For many of us that have been in the game for awhile we develop a sort of ‘automaticity’ to planning lessons. We know from experience what works, what falls flat, and how to set it all up. We know how to activate schematas, which display/concept/instruction check questions to ask, we can anticipate, more or less, what will be asked of us, etc. So for the experienced teacher, do we need to plan lessons every day? No. Every week? Probably not. However, I do think even experienced teachers should be doing a lot more planning than they are now (which let’s face it, isn’t much).
When I was preparing my application for my DELTA course I was asked to design an activity around an authentic text. I thought back to lessons I had done in the past and spiced it up a bit with some activities I read in “Games for Language Learning”. However when the interview came, I was floored when the course tutor asked about my aims. Apparently “because that’s what works” isn’t a good answer. The truth of the matter was that I hadn’t had to think about aims really since my CELTA. But I’m beginning to think that this was a mistake and something I should have been more conscious of all these years. And that’s what lesson planning does: It calls into question why do the things we’ve been doing for years.
After I got rejected the first time, that word ‘aims’ was burned into my brain for weeks. It still gives me the chills. After a few days of self-pity, I hit the books. “Planning Lessons and Courses” by Woodward seemed a good place to start. At the very beginning she lays out what a lesson plan is and what it isn’t. Mainly that it does “NOT mean the writing of pages of notes with headings such as ‘Aims’ and ‘Anticipated problems’ to be given in to an observer before they watch you teach” (emphasis hers, not mine). Rather she understands it to mean “considering the students, thinking of the content, materials and activities that could go into a course or lesson, jotting these down, having a quiet ponder, cutting things out of magazines and anything else that you feel will help you to teach well and the students to learn a lot, i.e. to ensure our lessons and courses are good.”
The keyword here is thinking—forethought. I see it every day. An amalgamation of materials clobbered together from the teacher’s library or a quick search on Google for “present perfect activities” 5 minutes before the next class. These lessons, though usually mediocre at best, do get the job done and a good teacher can make the most mundane activity come alive. But they also inevitably leave something to be desired. The transitions between stages/activities could have been smoother or more coherent; activities could have been more fleshed out or better contextualised; could I have done some phonology work with that exercise? There is a thought process that goes into properly planning a lesson and it usually shows. It shows an awareness of technique, theoretical underpinnings, and the why. A thorough lesson plan does not always guarantee a successful lesson but I think there is a positive correlation between the planning and the execution even though these two are not mutually exclusive. Whether we like it or not, it’s an awareness of the above as well as their conscious application that separates an OK or just coasting teacher from a good one. It’s not enough to just do, but to know why, and a lesson plan gives us the space and framework to consider possibilities. There’s a reason we spend so much time during our CELTAs on lesson plans even though we don’t use them nearly as much as we thought we would. It makes us think systematically about all of the elements that contribute to the success of a lesson. After we go into the big world of TEFL, we can take off the training wheels and start experimenting with those elements.
That being said, I don’t think it should we should plan every lesson, every day, down to every detail. But every now and again we do need a shake up. We need to sharpen our teaching blades after going through oh so many of those 45-90 minute motions. Having a lesson plan is also an invitation for critique, evaluation, and collaboration. It’s always interesting for me, to see how other teachers weave together different activities and approaches to create a coherent experience. I don’t always enjoy observations personally, but I’d rather things go not to plan than have no plan at all and just kind of see I can come up with (as exhilarating as it may be!). Even if things go pear-shaped, it’s interesting to know the rationale behind the intent.
I would agree that teaching is not “managing the delivery of a lesson plan.” We shouldn’t see them as a constraint, however, but a framework from which we can alter and deviate from as necessary. Like Howard says, “They’re not legally binding. We don’t have to stick to them come hell or high water. They are to help us shape the space, time and learning we share with students.”
Are Lesson Plans A Waste of Time?: https://teflreflections.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/lesson-plans-a-waste-of-time/
Observations and Paperwork: http://eltblog.net/2015/06/05/observations-and-paperwork/#more-900