Friday, January 10, 2014

Year 4: Week 17 - Lesson Plans

I haven’t written out a formal lesson plan in six years.

It’s not that I don’t plan out the scope and sequence of what I teach, I just don’t write out formal lesson plans. I have various documents and calendars that map out the year. I make notes of what I want to teach and how I want to teach things . . . sometimes. More often than not I teach from objectives that I have written out or have come up with in my head.

In college, I wrote out lesson plans all the time because I had to.  I would carefully fill in each box on the form so I would know the materials, how long it would take to teach each thing, the sequences of instructions, assessments and more. Yes, these epic three page lesson plans would often cover a 10-minute teaching experience, but I was really prepared and really thorough.

As much as it was a pain sometimes to write these things out, I think it was good to spend the time to do these things. The probably was trying to actually follow these lesson plans.

During these early years of teaching, instead of reacting to my students, thinking about how they were learning and how I was teaching, my concern was following my lesson plan. Sometimes when you are a new teacher and you are teaching, which is often a terrifying experience, following a lesson plan is all that you got to get you through the lesson and make yourself feel like that you have achieved some level of success.

Great, you’ve followed your lesson plan! Yay! But your students are horribly confused and you didn’t interact with them in a meaningful way, but the lesson plan was completed.

As I got more experienced, my lesson plans became less formal and I began to stop caring that I wasn’t following my plans carefully. Making lesson plans became a mental exercise to help me think through my teacher more than script or a plan of attack. In some ways the most beneficial lesson plans were the ones I thought about for a long time and then proceeded to ignore when it came to actually teaching.

At this point in my teaching, lesson planning happens quickly and mostly in my head. The reason I can do what I do without writing out lesson plans is probably because I had so many years when I did write out detailed plans. Like someone learning how to swim, the life preserver of a lesson plan, something for me to hang onto when things didn’t go as planned, is no longer necessary now that I can swim.

Young teachers: write out formal lesson plans. Use this exercise as a way to teach you how to think. Don’t let these plans tie you down or pull you away from your students.  Teaching is not about following a plan.  A monkey could do that.  Be more than monkey.  When you've had a couple years under your belt, try some different ways of organizing yourself and see what works.     

Great lesson plans do not guarantee success in the classroom.  They help, but if you can still make great things happen in the classroom without formal plans, consider giving them up and spend that time you would have spent writing out plans eating lunch with your students.  

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