The Art of Lesson Planning (or Blogging doesn’t get more pretentious than this)

So it’s time to get going again, back into the classroom and for the first time since being back at work, that I’ve actually cracked a smile of satisfaction. It’s been a week and a half of pfffffft, of meh, of generally not feeling engaged or focussed.

So, I hear you ask, what has induced this change of mood, this parting of the clouds, this lightening of soul and easing of weary heart?

I planned a lesson.

My goodness me, was it fabulous. Not the lesson plan, necessarily, but the fact and sensation of putting together a lesson plan. The product, the outcome of the lesson planning is, for the time being, not the point. The point was the process. It was very much as if something which had been very much in check the last week or so was all of a sudden allowed out.

It occurs to me then, that, learners aside, this creative process is one of the main things I enjoy about teaching. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the learners, in my darkest subconscious, are mainly there to give me an excuse to plan and deliver lessons. I don’t think I am an especially creative teacher, in the sense that I don’t do jumpy bouncy games and competitions, with fun objects and cards and things, and I’m generally not inclined to do so. I am much in awe of people who do that, and usually leave that sort of thing to those greater minds. I think I can be quite dry; words and language being my first (and only true) professional love meaning that these things form the backbone of what I do. I find myself wondering if that’s why planning the VLE training didn’t really set my juices flowing in the same way. IT, particularly things like the VLE and the “how to use MS Office” school of IT training, simply doesn’t excite me in anything like the way language does. Indeed, sometimes, If it’s not language, or at least related to language and language learning, then my interest is hit and miss to say the least. So most of my lessons tend to focus around the creation and maintenance of language, focussing on words and grammar and all those lovely sexy things.

So, anyway, writing a lesson plan? This is creative. Thinking about sequences of activity, how they are going to link, how the learners are going to react, where the instructions are going to fall, where the tangents might appear, tempting you off down new paths. Some people try to reduce lesson planning to a clinical science: set outcomes, warmer, body, recap, measure outcomes, even break learner activity to a drop down list of items. CELTA (still) gives us the religiously enforced PPP, and writers and initial teacher trainers like to come up with a catchy structure which novice teachers can hang a lesson on. Yet planning is so much more than that. Writing a good lesson plan is sensing the pattern of thought and reason, identifying how doing activity Y will build on information X, and how by discussing Z we will be able to explore in more depth the issues in both Y and X. In a language lesson we think about how we can spin the lesson to open up learner interaction, to engage their minds and experiment with the language they have been exposed to.

Lessons, like all art forms, can be fixed and formal and beautiful for it – a haiku or sonnet of a lesson. A lesson can be free form and instinctive, like improvised poetry and free form jazz. Or it can strike somewhere in between, indeed probably does. Like a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo or a story made up on the spot, there will be conventions and patterns and an overall structure within which the lesson fits.

Lesson planning is lovely, and I have missed it. Welcome back, teaching and learning.

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