Summary of the 12/10/2011 #eltchat on “Detailed paper-based lesson planning: pros and cons”

Welcome to this week’s summary of the 12.00 BST #eltchat! The topic this week was “Detailed paper-based lesson planning: pros and cons.”

(For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #eltchat is a Twitter-based discussion that takes place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the EFL industry, are nominated and voted upon by participants prior to discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.)

The first issue to be considered was that of establishing a working definition. What exactly do we mean by detailed? @Naomishema suggested that it “probably means with full objectives, times, full description of activities and what to do if there is time left” while @Shaunwilden proposed that it refers to “the sort of plans you’re expected to produce on TT courses”. These both stuck and the discussion started to refer to “CELTA-type plans”, questioning how useful they are to the trainees using them, to less experienced post-qualification teachers and to the long-term servers of the industry.

Here are some of the opinions tweeters offered, regarding the usefulness of “CELTA-type plans”:

I think  those CELTA plans were useful as a learning tool, but I certainly don’t do them now! (@theteacherjames)

Useful to help with the process of working it all out I think. Not a model for daily teaching. (@teflerinha)

Planning is good, having 2 write it all down over several pages is a waste of time- EXCEPT if being observed or if new 2 teaching.  (@michelle worgan)

It would be almost impossible to do them in a full-time job. (@Shaunwilden)

I always told CELTA trainees not to expect to be able to do it! (@teflerinha)

Long and detailed lesson plan can hinder more than help! (@michelleworgan)

It is a v. good training tool. Makes you think about the structure of the lesson in an analytical way (@theteacherjames)

The discussion moved on to consider the benefits of any kind of planning done prior to teaching a class. What is most beneficial? Do lesson plans help or hinder the teaching process? Should we follow them to the letter or deviate wildly from them? What format should they take? The variety of opinions that issued forth brought to mind the old “to each, his own” saying: In this case, perhaps, “to each teacher,  his/her own method of planning” !

Here are some of the points put forward by various tweeters, as they considered the benefits (or lack of them!) of pre-class planning:

[Planning is] useful for yourself to think through lessons but not necessarily on paper. (@michelleworgan)

If teachers repeat classes, then lesson plans can become an archive. (@barbsaka)

He who fails to plan, plans to fail. (@cybraryman1)

I think that for collaborating, written lesson plans are essential 🙂 (@barbsaka)

I don’t always need a plan, but I’m always prepared. (@theteacherjames)

For me 10 mins of hard thinking about class, 2 mins scribbling on back of envelope suffices. But it’s the thinking that’s important. (@timjulian60)

Also really useful to keep notes on lesson plans (or post-its) about what worked and didn’t. (@barbsaka)

I think a list of points/stages with objectives and any useful information  you may need should be your lesson plan. (@michelleworgan)

With the talk of lesson plans becoming an archive and the possibility of their usefulness in terms of collaboration, it was almost inevitable that someone would raise the following question:

If someone else wrote lesson plans for you, would it save you time or cramp your style?

Tweeters seemed to find themselves largely in agreement that the latter was more likely to be the case…

Definitely cramp my style. (@OUPELTglobal)

Cramp! 🙂 (@Nickkiley)

Cramp. (@RGMontgomery)

Personally can’t ever teach someone else’s plan- its how their mind works, not mine. (@Naomishema)

Another turn that this interesting discussion of lesson plans took was looking at how school policy can affect lesson planning. The general consensus seemed to be that schools do not affect planning in a positive way…

Are any of you required to post lesson plans on a website? I’m waiting until we have to put ours on renweb. UGH. Hope not. (@RGMontgomery) Yuck, why would people make you do that  – plans are for the person. (@Shaunwilden)

For accreditation, we have to keep lesson plans on file. (@RGMontgomery)

In my former school, I had to send my weekly lesson plans in adv. What a waste of time that was. Never read, filed away. (@theteacherjames)

My school asks us to keep a notebook with out lesson plans (no particular format), but they rarely check them. (@escocesa_madrid)

Most FE Colleges in UK do [expect teachers to produce written plans].  Pages of it. One of reasons I got out as I spent more time on plan than materials. (@teflerinha)

I think there can be too much paperwork, leaving less time for Ts to do their job, esp in UK state education. (@michelleworgan)

There was a lot of interest in the question of what makes for a good lesson plan:

 I always describe it as road map, so the essentials are the things you think you need for the journey. (@Shaunwilden)

Essentials: 1. objectives 2. methodology 3. materials 4. tangents 5. supplemental work/differentiation. (@TyKendall)

Essentials of lesson plans are clear purpose, variety of activities & ensuring all individuals & learning styles covered. (@3ty3)

Don’t forget the part” if extra time do this” sometimes activities progress faster than you expect! (@naomishema)

A very pertinent point was raised by (@theteacherjames):

“We need to differentiate between having a plan & being prepared. First can be more rigid, 2nd more open.”

This raised the question of how rigid plans have to be and the role that flexibility plays in the process of bringing the plan to the classroom.

Never have to stick to the plan! (@RGMontgomery)

Plans are made to be changed! V uncreative not to 🙂 (@rliberni)

I’ve even thrown plans out the window entirely, a plan doesn’t have to be a straitjacket! (@TyKendall)

Having a plan is good. But you can go slow or fast, depending on the Ss level! (@juanalejandro26)

Inevitably, the discussion moved on to considering the cons of planning:

Sticking to it rigidly? Overplanning so rushing sudents thru things? Putting material over students? (@shaunwilden)

The problem is – having a written plan often prevents me from seeing/hearing/feeling my ss well at the beginning of a lesson. (@Michelleworgan)

What about students? Where do they fit in to this whole equation? Is it important for them to see evidence of teacher planning?

Important to appear prepared, but not sure that paper lesson plans always show that 🙂 (@barbsaka)

Even if students can tell u haven’t prepared, do they mind? Or do they prefer the class to flow naturally?(@michelle worgan)

You know that when some students see you looking at lesson plan they are thinking “does he really know, why does he need to read that?” (@naomishema)

For my students, it’s essential as it’s part of the value for their investment. (@rliberni)

I think it’s imp for students to see you know what you’re doing, that you have an aim – transmits a sense of credibility. (@OUPELTglobal)

It was suggested that, at the end of the lesson, teachers should ask their students what they perceived the aims of the lesson to be. If students wrote the plan at the end of the lesson, would it tally with yours? The focus on students was maintained as the discussion explored the differences between planning for teenagers and adults.

For teens and adults there tend to be fewer activities, and they vary more.  For YLs there’s more routine. (@escocesa_madrid)

I would definitely not group adolescent with adult with very mature age as learning preferences are all very different. (@JoHart)

I think age controls lesson plans , with young learners u need to plan more creativity. (@PrettyButWise)

All in all, it seemed to be agreed that lesson plans are a useful tool when used judiciously. What constitutes judicious use, of course, largely boils down to personal preference. Above everything else, I would propose that this #eltchat has served the very useful purpose of encouraging us all to think outside of our own personal-preference boxes and consider all of the other alternative horses running about on all the courses out there in this big, wide world of EFL in which we all merrily co-exist.

Look forward to seeing you all in the next discussion! Do not forget: Wednesday 1200 and 2100 BST! Be there or be square…. (Can’t say fairer–or indeed cheesier!!–than that!)

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