The first of my assessed observations happened yesterday afternoon, but it felt like it had been happening for a week – the plan took up a lot of my energy. I think I wanted to make the ‘perfect’ lesson, and speaking to some of the other teachers on the course it seems like this was a theme for the first observation.
I’m not much of a planner usually – I have a general idea of what I want to achieve in the lesson and how I’ll go about it, and I find material that suits the class, and I tend to go from there. It’s also informed by the week, or the course, as a coherent whole, so if I planned Friday’s lesson in any sort of detail on Monday, it would most likely be less useful or relevant to the students’ learning than something thought through on Friday morning. As often as not the plan gets thrown out of the window anyway – if I see a better route to a goal, or an unmissable opportunity for an extension to an aim emerges from the lesson. You can predict how long it might take until you are able to move on to a new stage, but it’s very difficult to know how long a stage or process should go on for until the students are doing it – that’s the best time to notice what’s happening in their learning process.
Very little about this first observation has endeared planning to me, to be honest. Something that was interesting was giving a rationale for each individual stage; I found that quite revealing, because it clarified from the learners point of view the reasons for doing things which I vaguely sense they should be doing. For example, to begin mixed-level afternoon lessons I always ask them what they’ve been doing in their morning classes, and they share it with each other and give some examples, just for five minutes. Providing a rationale for this made me realise how closely it’s linked with learner autonomy and peer teaching, and how it could be helping them to be conscious of, and take more responsibility for, their own learning by seeing opportunities to practice new language. I’ve resolved to develop this stage a little more. There were a few other nice little moments in the planning stage where similar routines and habits had light thrown on them.
Otherwise, though, I found it really difficult to outline exactly what I would do in each stage of the lesson, and in what exact order it would happen. I knew what I wanted the students to be doing, but it was a headache putting down on paper specifically how I would cause that. It was like trying to write a blow-by-blow plan for catching a fish (not that I’ve ever been fishing), or painting a picture. I think its a skill that I haven’t really developed at all, and my ability to plan a lesson hasn’t kept up with the way that I teach.
The class, in the end, left me frustrated because I knew that I hadn’t done what I set out to achieve – vocabulary review, phonemic discrimination practice and contextualisation with meaning, then suprasegmental intonation for communciative meaning. Essentially I’d tried to do too much “teaching” in one lesson. It became clear – although I should have noticed when I was planning – that there wouldn’t be enough time in the lesson to properly consolidate everything we were doing. Normally, if this had happened, I would have made sure the stages we could do were properly developed within themselves, then left the follow-on stages to the next lesson. Because I had the “perfect lesson” drilled into me by my week of planning, I didn’t do this; I yanked the students from one stage to the next in the name of task completion, and left feeling like I’d wasted a learning opportunity.
It’s tempting to blame the plan, and also not entirely inappropriate – my plan was too full of stages, and didn’t have any room to let them settle and develop. My teaching of the plan is also responsible though; I should have just taught the students using viable parts of my plan, and made sure it was productive for them. Instead I taught the plan using my students. I’m usually not fazed by observations, but this one did feel different; the pressure got to me I think, leading to me bulldozing ahead without much awareness. I got caught up in my plan and that took me away from the lesson.
What I’ve taken away from this immediately – it being only 24 hours later – is that I need to reconcile the need to plan with my aversion to planning. For one thing, in the long term, I have to examine whether or not I’m right to eschew developed planning in my everyday teaching. Right now though, I need to get more comfortable with the idea of having a detailed plan, and still teaching in the best way that I know how. I’m not sure how to do this actually, but a simpler plan for my next observation should be a good start.