Before the Lesson Plan

2011 Symposium2

Teachers know that quality instruction doesn’t just happen by chance in the classroom, and trying to improvise lessons just doesn’t work. Quality instruction has to be planned. Certainly flexibility will be needed, and everything will not always go as planned, but teaching without planning will not result in significant learning. What many teachers do not realize, is that writing a lesson plan is not where planning starts. The lesson plan actually comes quite late in the planning process. It is the specific implementation of one in many details that together form a larger plan, and form an overall goal. Let me explain.

Lessons rarely are isolated learning opportunities. This is because rarely is there something worthwhile that all students can master in one lesson, and rarely do all students, or even most students retain everything they learn in a single class meeting. With multiple lessons needed to teach a given concept, or to complete a given learning project or activity, all of the lesson included in teaching that concept or facilitating that project need to be well sequenced and organized so that they systematically and clearly lead students through the learning from start to finish. So the initial question in planning is not what is to be taught and learned in a single lesson, but instead, what piece of the longer term goal is going to be accomplished, and is this the right time to put this piece in place. Knowing this requires a vision and a goal to which students will be working over the course of a number of lessons. It is here that the teacher can describe the vision, the objectives, and the student needs that will be met.

With a vision and objectives in mind, the teacher now must determine what students will do to meet the objectives. Some teachers mistake describing what students will do with a complete lesson plan, but this is a mistake; learning activities must serve objectives, needs, and be directed toward eventual assessment, all of which are necessary parts of a lesson plan. The point here, though, is to create a clear picture of how students will experience learning in the classroom. What will their educational experience be. Thissmall group instruction includes not only activities, but also anticipating challenges, embedding motivational strategies and encouragements, and allowing for students to lead and guide their own learning through exploration, research, collaboration and other strategies. The experience will be reflected in a student’s description of what it was like to be in those classes.

Next, before more time is spent planning, the teacher must determine what resources will be needed to accomplish the objectives and realize the vision. This is important for two reasons. First, resources must be collected or created in advance, and second, if the needed resources are not available, the vision and objectives may need to be revised or changed. Now is the time to know this.

After materials and resources are ready, it is time to flesh out the specific details of the task. Procedures, time schedules, deadlines, how students will work (independently, in small groups, etc.) all need to be thought out. The teacher at this stage of planning mentally goes to his or her class, and rehearses how the lesson will flow for a student. By doing this, missing steps and left out details often become apparent that would otherwise be overlooked.

After all of this, it is, alas, time to write the lesson plan. By now, the teacher has all the information he or she needs to be able to write down the lesson objective in the context of the overall objectives and vision, and a step-by-step presentation of what he or she will do in the classroom, what will be asked of the students, and what will be assessed and how it will be assessed. Assessment is critical to determine how the student did in a particular lesson, and also what progress the student is making toward the overall objectives and vision of the unit. As all of this is written down, the students’ experience will become evident. At this point, the planning process is complete, and it’s time to go teach.

This whole process will not be necessary for every lesson; the learning sequence established through what has been described will do nicely throughout the unit, right up to finishing the objectives. But the whole process is necessary for every unit or sequence of lessons, and every lesson must have a plan that is properly attached to the vision and objectives of the unit. The critical thing is not to isolate lessons that are difficult for the students to connect, but to relate them in a sequential and logical way so that several lessons gradually lead to accomplishing a goal.



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