Can We Make Lesson Plans More Than Just Compliance Plans?

By AJ Juliani, 27 comments

Coming into student teaching I was really confident about my lesson planning abilities. I was a bit worried about classroom management, designing assessments, and handling the demands of a first-year teacher…but lesson plans? Ha. I aced every single one of them during college. That was the easy part.

We were teaching Frankenstein when I finally got a chance to craft my very own lesson to teach. My supervising teacher was great, and I learned so much from him watching him teach and through some very good discussions about practice. When I showed him with pride what I was going to teach the next day, he said:

This is not a lesson plan.

Huh, I thought? Why not? “Well”, he said, “you did a nice job of writing down what you were going to do, and what standards were going to be covered…but this is more a schedule of activities, then an actual lesson plan.”

My pride took a hit that day, but I had learned a very important “lesson”. Writing down a schedule of activities that are taking place during class is not a lesson plan.

Lessons About Lesson Planning

As a third-year teacher, I thought I knew it all. I had a strong classroom presence, challenged my students, and for the most part, had this teaching thing figured out. I was a floating teacher, but our principal had been nice enough to schedule me into classrooms that had 1:1 Macbook carts, so I really was a mobile 1:1 teacher, and I loved it.

Using technology in the classroom had sparked my creativity as a teacher and led me to connect online, reading blogs, and trying out a lot of new ideas with my students.

One day I had a formal observation with my assistant principal coming in to view my class. I was excited to show off a new tech tool we had just started to use, and how much the students loved it.

The lesson went off without a hitch. My students were engaged, working with each other, and using the technology effortlessly. There were a few tech hiccups, but overall I was proud of what took place during that class period.

In the post-observation discussion I was waiting for another “glowing review” of my teaching because once again “I knew it all”…and then for the second time in my career I heard:

This is not really a lesson plan.

Huh? “Why not?” I asked with a bit more emphasis than when I was student teaching. He went on to ask me whether or not I thought the technology helped the learning process.

I thought the students were engaged, and they were. I also thought the students were collaborating, and they were. But, I never checked if the students were truly learning. Were they asking questions, solving problems (that weren’t related to technology), and demonstrating understanding? Not really.

I learned that day that technology doesn’t replace what really matters: questions, problem-solving, and demonstrating understanding. It can help all of those things, but only if you use it in the right context for the right purpose.

Looking For the Wrong Lessons

Now in an administrative role, I believe we often treat lesson plans as a recipe.

We often tell teachers “what” they should have in the lesson plan: Goals, standards, anticipatory set, checks for understanding, etc etc.

Then we tell teachers “how” they should structure their lesson.

We often miss “why” this type of planning is important. We miss the chance to talk about the plan being developed with a colleague. We miss the conversation that happens before the lesson of where students are and where you want them to be. We miss the reflection afterward that drives the instruction for the coming days, and can be adjusted for the following group of learners.

If you are making “cookies” this works, but not if you are teaching a mixed-level group of students who are all different learners with different needs and various background knowledge.

Teachers are chefs, not cooks.

So even if you have a great activity, with goals and standards, group work added to the mix, and technology being used…

Let’s move the focus away from teachers being compliant with lessons plans, to being given the chance to talk about the learning that is happening before, during and after the “lesson” takes place.

Can we change the name from lesson plan to learning plan?

Learning changes on the fly, it adjusts as needed, and can turn into something much better than previously planned when given this freedom.

We need to move…

  • From checking to see whether or not the teacher is organized to checking whether the activities are reaching every learner.
  • From forcing teachers to be compliant, to give the freedom to innovate inside the box of natural constraints, just as a chef does in their role.
  • From moving the focus away from how the plan is structured, to how well the kids learn.
  • From making it all about a fancy final product, to all about the messy process that is learning.

This makes it harder for teachers…and leaders…but it also makes it better for students.

And guess what, their learning needs more than just a lesson plan.

Photo Credit: photosteve101 via Compfight cc

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