The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up... Your Lesson Plans- 3 Strategies
We've all been asking ourselves what sparks joy. I hear the Goodwill donations are out of control this year. Thanks Marie Kondo!
But let's talk about the classroom. I'm a bit jealous of those teachers that find joy in lesson planning. If it was up to me, I'd donate this process to Goodwill because it no longer brings me joy, but... it's a reality.
As ESL teachers, we move fast. No one has the luxury of time when it comes to learning a language. Everyone is contrainted by financial, physical, or mental energy boundaries. High school students need to graduate. College students need to stop paying tuition, and immigrants are ready to enter the workforce. These are all reasonable constraints.
Teachers, however, have their own constraints. ESL requires a lot of knowledge if it is to be taught well, but it's not only head knowledge, no- this is half of our job. We must create conditions for language to improve, flourish, and grow. If I, as the teacher, speak the for the duration of the class, I'm doing something wrong. And so we find ourselves in a balancing act.
We need to strategize about planning by stretching our ideas out. Less can be more. Teachers are idea people, but with the cognitive load of the job, we need to strategize to thrive. If we only spend time surviving, we will find ourselves in burn-out mode, looking towards the private sector, or being that angry old teacher that we all had in high school.
Big Idea People
Start with a big idea, project, poster session, or field trip. Then work backwards. Think of all the linguistic material the students will need to achieve this end task. Think of areas they will need support.
I asked my class to come up with a new business idea, and they needed more support than I expected, so after class I wrote some notes and created some worksheets for the next time. I also turned this project into multiple grammar, editing, speaking, and writing assignments. Our entire 7-week course was dedicated to this project. Most activities that we did in class supported this project.
Planner Type People
You don't need to make everything for your students. Actually, please don't. When we teach language, we don't need to provide all the content, but we do need to correct it. Let the students write the content. It will be more interesting for you and for them.
I often have my students reflect on what we learn in class. I started my Reading and Writing class with this topic last week. What is the purpose of this class? They throw out thinks like: grammar, essay writing, paragraph structure, reading, and spelling. I write these on the board. Then I ask them what other things they need to practice in class. And we add pronunciation and speaking. I write it on the board. We could stop there. I could say, "That was a great discussion." However, I should keep stretching. So, I ask the students to get in pairs and rank the different things we do in class. First, they rank from most important to least important and then from easiest to most difficult.
This achieves so many goals. 1) Students analyze what happens in class. 2) Students get to be honest, but not embarrassed about what they need me to teach in class. 3) This increases student ownership of our course. This leads to a more student centered approach.
Does this mean that I will only teach things they think are easy? No, but I can remind them that I hear them.
Don't miss the moment
Students would NEVER try to get a teacher off track... No, but really they try! Does it work? Sometimes. However, we need to be reminded as teachers to live in the moment. We are so preoccupied with our plans that sometimes we don't know when to throw it out. We can always come back to it the next day. Language questions appear in the brain at sometimes inconvenient moments. Teachers may not be ready to answer those questions. If not, make a note and plan a lesson for it in a few days. If you are ready to answer the question, dive in! I realize we all have goals to meet, but students' needs should be driving out class time. It's not always possible, btu it can be quite magical when it happens.