Lesson planning — ugh. It’s the bane of your existence.
You spend hours on it every week, sometimes nights and weekends. You might hate it so much that you just reuse plans that you made years ago or borrow from other teachers.
Maybe the planning itself wouldn’t be so bad, except that it takes so much time, and the plans never seem to go quite right.
What would happen if you got all that time back?
Maybe you would sleep more, finally hit the gym again, or do something fun for once! You might even put a smile on your face for class.
This is possible — in fact, you need to make it happen, right now. How?
You have to stop planning.
Teaching does NOT require lesson planning
We’ve all heard a thousand different methods for planning effectively, but everyone seems to agree that planning is necessary.
Bear with me for a few minutes while I show you that it’s not — it’s actually bad for learning.
Let’s use an analogy: teaching math (replace “math” with your subject: science, philosophy, yoga, pottery, or whatever it may be) is like cooking eggs.
You read that right — eggs.
At the most basic level, both are so easy that you don’t need a plan. Everything you need to know about how to do it is already in your head. (Let’s assume you have some basic kitchen skills, for the sake of the argument.)
Now imagine that someone has asked you to make eggs, just like they ask you to teach at work. Two things are true: you must know how to cook eggs in order to accept this task, and you have to like eggs in order to cook them well.
In other words, you have to know math to be a math teacher, and you have to like math in order to teach it well. Can we agree on that?
One more thing: the only essential ingredient for making eggs is…you guessed it, eggs! Same goes for teaching math. The only thing you really need is knowledge of math. Everything else is gravy.
Does this sound familiar?
Let’s take a look at some stories about eggs and math.
Scenario 1: Your plan works! Yes!!
Your plan is to cook scrambled eggs for your egg-making employer today. You arrive with your eggs, and the pan is there waiting for you, so you make some awesome scrambled eggs!
Now imagine that scrambled eggs = a math lesson that uses a website. The wifi works today, so you teach an awesome math lesson!
Scenario 2: Your plan fails, but you’ll fix it
Same deal, but this time you arrive to find no pan (i.e. broken wifi)! What the heck? How are you supposed to do your job?
You feel stressed and blame your employer as you muddle through class without your plan. (Raw egg smoothie, anyone?)
Next time you’ll bring your own damn pan.
Scenario 3: Your students sabotage your plan
Same plan, but this time you get there and find out they don’t want eggs. They want pancakes!
We’ve all been there. Your students just don’t feel like studying math today. All they want is to play video games!
You have a choice to make.
Here’s what usually happens. You have a lesson plan — you worked really hard on it and you know it will be great if they just give it a chance. So you say no, we’re not playing video games, and you teach it anyway.
You make them eat the eggs.
What else could you do? You were hired to make eggs. You can’t just make pancakes instead.
Except that you can.
Pancakes have eggs in them, and your picky eaters don’t even have to know it. They’ll eat them and love it, not realizing the eggs were in there all along.
Let’s see what happens if you abandon your plan and play video games with your students. Have you seen how much math is in a typical game? They might have to keep track of numbers like their avatar’s health and money, make decisions about what to spend it on, and figure out what they need to do to earn enough for what they want.
They’ll spend the whole class practicing math and having fun!
Now that you know they don’t want to study math the “traditional” way, you can look for all the ways they can practice math by doing things they enjoy. The world of games is infinite, but let’s mix it up. How about making cookies? They’ll need to multiply, use fractions, make a budget, and follow a procedure — all important math skills!
How many ways can you find math in “non-math” activities? As many as there are foods with eggs in them!
If you think this can’t work for your subject, I challenge you to come up with at least 10 ways that the skills and themes of your subject can be found in any activity other than traditional-style study. Stuck? Head over to the forum and ask for help!
Let’s kill the sacred cow of lesson planning
Lesson planning doesn’t just eat up your time and bum out your students — it’s killing education.
Think about this: if you plan a romantic date, and your partner is not in the mood, how do you feel? Disappointed!
It’s the same in teaching. You spend the whole evening planning your class, only to have your plan destroyed by your students’ attitude. You’re equally disappointed, and frustrated too.
Whose fault is it? Your students’? No — you were the one with the plan, not them.
Imagine it from their perspective. For them, going to class is like going to a pizza place, only to be served porridge and get told that they have to eat it and like it!
They were promised fun and learning, but what they get is confinement and boredom. Pretty soon they see that the whole idea of the pizza place is a big fat lie.
Is it any wonder so many students end up hating their teachers, their classes, their school, and education in general?
Break the planning cycle — listen!
Every time you plan, there is room for disappointment — yours and your students’.
This ignites a vicious cycle of bad attitudes and blame. You’re the reason they hate math, and they’re the reason you’re exhausted.
But you can break out of this never-ending loop. All you have to do is listen to your students.
Remember when the math students wanted to play video games? How did we know? We had to ask them…and take their answer seriously.
Sounds crazy? Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll show you exactly how it’s done.
Join the discussion!
I would love to know:
- How much time do you spend on lesson planning each week?
- What’s the biggest obstacle to throwing out your plans?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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