Learning Through Lesson Planning

The dreaded lesson plan. I don’t know of a single teacher who likes to write them. They seem quite inauthentic, really. Educational and psychological theorists tell us that we should begin our lesson plans “with the end in mind;” What do we really want our students to learn during this lesson? Often, however, we begin with the question, “What standards do we have to meet?” It is this latter question that illustrates why lesson planning is so hated. Despite some of our best efforts to create meaningful learning experience for students, we teachers often think about what our students “need to know and be able to do” rather than our own professional connections to the material. What got me thinking about this disconnect was a quote by Richardson (2001, p. 35) in Hatch’s (2002) Doing Qualitative Research in Education Settings. Richardson explains, “I write because I want to find something out. I write in order to learn something that I did not know before I wrote it” (p. 212). When is the last time you wrote a lesson plan and learned something for yourself?

I’ve decided to try an experiment this semester, one involving a lot of reading and some reflection. I’ve decided to take one of my classes and completely redesign it, learning new material, new more-constructivist instructional strategies, and new technologies. What I’ve discovered so far is that I can’t write in the lesson plan format at first. The whole format is too procedural for me and doesn’t let me work through some of the conceptual, theoretical, or practical details the way that I would normally think about writing a paper, journal, or other more prosy piece. This discovery actually came as a shock to me because, as a former middle school teacher with multiple preps, I think I’m really good at creating lesson plans.

The more I’ve thought about this whole process, though, the more I think that lesson planning might be more like creating a PowerPoint. A PowerPoint may not be powerful or have a point without the creator first working through all of the details and pathways behind the major concepts. Watching a PowerPoint presentation without an argument is like reading a social studies textbook… a whole lot of facts that are quickly forgotten for more important, meaningful information.

So, here’s what I’m trying and I challenge you to do the same:

1. Select a class for which you have a particular passion.
2. Instead of getting right to your lesson plans, write/journal/draw/score an argument for each lesson you will teach.
3. Once you have your argument down, create an activity that enable your students to make their own argument.
4. NOW, write your lesson plan.
5. After you teach, add two more sections to your creation in Step #2:
a. What did you learn from your students?
b. Your conclusions about the topic under study.

This is going to take a lot of work. I’m just getting started and I’ve caught myself trying to skip some steps. However, this process just seems right to me… it feels more real and intellectually stimulating. I’ll let you know how my semester goes. If you try it, I’d love to hear what you find!