Are we Orthodox About Lesson Planning?
Teachers come across formal lesson planning in at least two ways – one, when they are taught the science/ art of lesson planning in their pre-service teacher education courses, and two, when as teachers they are required to prepare formal lesson plans, usually for the inspection and approval of the head-teacher, as a part of the school routine. Formal lesson plans here refer to written and structured documents in a ‘standard’ format following certain norms, which are open to public sharing. They contrast with informal lesson plans which a teacher may prepare only mentally or by making personal sketchy notes, not conforming to external norms and primarily for personal use. One finds a variety of formats, models and strategies of formal lesson planning being used on teacher education courses and also in schools as the institutional standard. A typical lesson plan format requires details of how the teacher will introduce the lesson, what steps and procedures will be followed to teach the given point, what the teacher and the learners will do at every step, what content will be taught using what resources and what follow-up on the lesson has been planned.
Drawing on the general scenario around us we may hypothesise about the changing attitudes of teachers to formal lesson planning formats in the following way. Student teachers on teacher education courses may find lesson planning formats a valuable support for conceptualizing, planning and organizing lessons. In the initial years of teaching they may heavily rely on these formats as a means of surviving in the classroom, though they may not always work. Lacking confidence to handle unexpected developments and lacking courage to be spontaneous and experiment, they may prefer the support of ready and structured formats. After several years into the profession, as they gain in experience, confidence and independence, teachers may depend much less on ready formats and evolve personal, less structured, ways of lesson planning. However, since the school prescribes one common format for all the staff, which they have to follow, they continue to fill in lesson plan formats which may not reflect the actual planning. Thus, the gap between actual and formal lesson planning seems to widen with the increase in teacher experience and autonomy.
This does not mean that with more experience teachers plan less. This means that the nature of actual lesson planning changes over time, with remarkable differences between the planning of a beginner and of a veteran. Beginners may like to ‘micro-plan’ in great details, taking care to work out every small bit of the lesson, and stay closer to the lesson planning templates from teacher education courses or from their schools. Experienced teachers may plan just in broad outlines, deviating significantly from (or even completely disregarding) the ready lesson planning templates. Beginners may actually prefer to write down their plans and have a visual image of planning before them, while experienced teachers may prefer planning in their minds, perhaps occasionally noting down a point or two for reference.
One key concern in this regard is that such changing nature of lesson planning is not recognized either in teacher education courses or in schools. Teacher education courses introduce lesson planning formats as supportive tools to train teachers in the practicalities of actually teaching in the classroom. Schools use lesson planning formats not only to aid institutional planning and management, but also for the appraisal and monitoring of teachers. But, in both cases, a very static and rigid notion of lesson planning seems to operate. For example, teacher education courses introduce various lesson planning frameworks and templates, implying that teachers can use them equally effectively at all stages of their career. Schools prescribe uniform common lesson planning templates, assuming that a senior teacher’s lesson planning is no different from a beginner’s. The dynamic nature of lesson planning, its evolution as the teacher grows experienced, is not taken into account.
An importance consequence of this static view of lesson planning is disregarding the relationship between professional development and the changing nature of lesson planning. In imposing a beginner’s lesson planning format on an experienced teacher the school may be refusing to recognize the teacher’s professional growth, discrediting any changes, devaluing experience and even humiliating the teacher. (That may partly explain the cynicism many senior teachers show about formal lesson planning.) More importantly, the school may be missing an important opportunity of assessing the professional growth of its staff by ignoring changes in lesson planning across career stages as an indicator.
The foregoing discussion is in the form of hypothesizing, but it points to important issues in lesson planning worth investigating. It is important to comprehensively explore the nature of actual lesson planning followed by teachers at different stages of their career. This may include a series of research studies in different contexts, with different types of teachers, focusing on different aspects of lesson planning. The outcomes of these studies may help appropriately incorporate a dynamic notion of lesson planning both in teacher education courses and in school monitoring and appraisal mechanisms. A dynamic notion of lesson planning will have important implications for teacher education curricula, for teacher appraisal and monitoring and for school quality management in general.
(*Dr. Amol Padwad is the National Convener of All India Network of English Teachers (AINET www.theainet.net) and teaches in a private college in central India.)