Lessons in lesson planning

Surabhi Agarwal

You are teaching a class and it has picked up momentum. You know you are on track to achieve the learning objective and subsequent curricular targets. A student poses a question and suddenly, you realize that answering it has eaten away a significant amount of the time. You still have a lot to cover, but you’re unable to bring the focus back to the learning goal.

Does this classroom scenario sound familiar? Have you faced similar teaching blocks? If yes, then a handy lesson plan at that moment would go a long way in overcoming the challenge.

The need
There is a marked sense of purpose in classrooms that are backed by a strong and coherent lesson plan. Students work towards a well-established learning goal that has been carved beforehand. All the activities are in sync and aligned to this learning objective. Lesson plans (sometimes called session/learning plans or instructor/facilitator guides) are documents that elaborate the steps to achieve this goal. They act as convenient reference guides that sequence the events of a time-bound session. They are the most basic unit of a well-designed curriculum that aids in running smooth classes and conjuring meaningful activities and discussions.

Lesson plan formats may vary, but typically, they detail out the learning objectives, instructor actions, expected student actions, exact pedagogy, questions to be posed, discussion prompts, and cues for quizzes, worksheets, and assessment. They can be used to recommend ice-breakers, energizers, introductions, and closures as well. They act as a base for chalking out assessments focussed on the learning goals. Planned lessons are easy to revise, recap, and summarize. Also, they help in minimizing the learning loss caused due to teacher absenteeism as it makes substitutions more meaningful.

Planning that’s pragmatic
Even though strategizing beforehand is a key step to delivering successful sessions, teachers often find this documentation tedious. They approach it as a school deliverable, instead of a blueprint to accomplish their teaching-learning goals. This is primarily because the text is not useful when it’s really required. To be effective, plan documents must be easy to navigate and decipher. Text-heavy scripts with rigid templates are difficult to implement while delivering a class simultaneously.

Detailed lesson planning is a relatively newer concept in schools and it may take time for all the stakeholders to get used to it. Especially with experienced teachers, there is a natural tendency to do things the way they have always been done. They count on their experience of covering the same topics through many years, so the task of writing their practises seems futile. Nonetheless, scripting helps educators structure their ideas, strategize their approach and establish a chronology. It also allows them to approach topics with a brand-new lens and adapt to the demands of evolving student behaviours.

Some instructors need a detailed manuscript containing content, pedagogies, assessments, and additional resources that runs through multiple pages. Some others may have a preference for a crisper version with key steps and content. On the other extreme, there may be a few who want just a snapshot or a chit of paper with keywords. The final goal is to conduct an engaging class with a clear objective and a focussed attempt to help maximum students achieve this goal. Flexibility to choose a suitable template will prove to be beneficial towards meeting this goal.

It is also important to avoid over planning. Anticipating all that will eventually go on during the class is irrational. The focus should remain on the content to be delivered, the pedagogy to be used and assessment, if any.

Authoring an approach
When teachers map out their own ideas, they hold the reins of the game. To leverage this opportunity, planning should be seen as a conversation with self. Instead of general questions like “What works in a classroom”, ask personalized questions like “What has worked in MY classroom”. Similarly, when thinking about “How do students internalize a topic?”, change the approach to “How do MY students internalize such a topic?” A few similar questions are given below.
• What would my students like to learn?
• Which pedagogies show maximum student engagement in my class?
• What are my coaching strengths? How do I use them to deliver a good class?
• Is my content well-sequenced? Does it flow smoothly from one topic to the next?
• Is there a way for my students to express/apply new knowledge?
• Which type of assessments has given the most useful data about my classroom?
• Is my assessment gradable? Have I taken into account the time for grading?
• Have I collated sufficient and appropriate examples?
• How would I know if a student has mastered a topic?
• Is the textbook aiding my students in achieving mastery of the topic? Do I need it?
• Am I prepared to handle questions from students?
• Have I accounted for buffer time?

Strong groundwork at the planning stage acts as a foundation for all the associated Teaching Learning Material (TLM). TLM includes any material that helps to execute the class. Worksheets, textbooks, audio-visual content, and assessments are a few examples of TLM. In robust planning, all the material is designed to adequately support the learning goals and provide a comprehensive learning experience to the students.

It is important to encourage teachers to reflect on their own best practices and organize their thoughts before the class. They must be acknowledged, trusted and guided throughout this process. Holding rigid, long planning documents as a performance deliverable may be counter-productive because trainers may gravitate towards what’s easy to submit and not what’s useful for students.

Using outsourced plans
Customized textbooks and contracted curricular services often lead to lesson plans being handed out to teachers. In such situations, they are required to run the class based on plans that are carved out by pedagogues and external subject matter experts. Often, this saves their time, as a lot of researched content and strategies are provided in these files. When a plan is not self-authored, it is crucial to study it before putting it into effect. It is also necessary to contextualize it to specific classroom’s needs and clear out any queries.

At times, outsourced plans are not cognizant of the real-life classroom challenges, and therefore, difficult to apply. EdTech is obsessed with redesigning and reinventing the wheel. Buzzwords like ‘activity-based’, ‘project-based’, ‘multi-sensory’, ‘constructivism’, and ‘experiential’ have dominated the conversations in this space. While these proposed methods have significant benefits, such plans must be created thoughtfully with strong visualization skills. Teachers too need to be trained appropriately to oversee such classes in a time-bound manner. Nevertheless, if the suggested strategy is unclear, take support from peer groups to make the best out of the given content. Alternatively, reach out to the curriculum creators to understand their perspective.

Role of a teacher
Even the best lesson plans fail, if the teacher misses the mark in carrying it out. Here are a few best practices that assist in running classes as per the plan.

  1. Prepare. Plans must be outlined much in advanced. Beginning of the academic year or unit is a good time to draft. While conducting a smart class, ask for presentation decks at least a week ahead and thoroughly study it.
  2. Revisit. It goes a long way to briefly visit all the TLMs, arrange for audio-visual support, and troubleshoot any technical difficulties before the class.
  3. Trim. Paraphrased versions help in retaining knowledge points. They act as a quick compass when classes go on a different tangent than expected.
  4. Research. To maintain an uninterrupted flow of learning, read the preceding and following lesson plans.
  5. Analyze. Arrange to get feedback from co-workers. Often, a single scheme is applied multiple times (different sections of the same grade). Advices will help in course correction.

Lesson planning is an impactful tool for flawless execution and should not become a hindrance towards this end. It is a concrete account of the chronology of events in each lesson. It supports knowledge transfer and repeatability of good lectures through years. Moreover, it also helps in achieving ambitious learning goals and continuing the learning journey of aspirational teachers. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

The author is an academic consultant and a certified instructional designer. She has strategized the curricular framework of edtech start-ups and has designed their pedagogical frameworks. She can be reached at surabhi.edtech@gmail.com.

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