Bruce Mims: On Planning Instruction
As I read through many articles and blog posts about good lesson design, I keep coming across a curious and recurring theme that’s often overlooked in the details. I find it curious, because it’s an interesting concept that comes with a lot of assumptions regarding how different people view their profession in terms of the constantly evolving dynamic of teaching and learning in the information age: planning. Seems simple? True, but not so simple when one digs deeper into the “non-discussable” elements of the teaching profession—almost to a paradox.
One common thread universally connecting all teacher preparation programs is the concept of lesson design planning. Indeed, there are many planning frameworks, templates, or boiler plate models for planning lesson design. The bottom line, though, is the practice or process of planning as an ongoing professional activity—rather than a static event. In many cases, “the (lesson) plan” is the fine line between success and failure—especially for the younger or inexperienced instructors. It’s not to say the lesson plan is the “be all and tell all” of the instructional design; rather, it is the roadmap or “guide” that, in many cases, allows both experienced and inexperienced instructors to become creative, reflective, and take risks or “push the envelope”. The concern becomes increasingly worrisome when we add the whole notion of Common Core State Standards into the mix. The common concern with Common Core is the fact that lesson design in terms of achieving the objectives is entirely reliant on good planning and collaboration on the part of teachers and leaders.
In “7 Habits Terms” Covey (1998) touches on this notion with his Habit 2 discussion: “Beginning with an End in Mind”. He equates beginning with an end in mind to creating a road map—from here to there. Ironically, he also submits the road map is not to be filled with every minute detail; rather, an outline of the places and spaces from the origin to the point somewhere on the near horizon. Creating the roadmap gives vision to the intention, so, regardless of detours and false starts, every step one takes is always in the right direction—sounds simple huh? Such is the case with lesson design planning: it is a framework or guide to help instructors get from here to there, replete with spaces and places to handle the unforeseen but likely unpredictable things that happen on a daily basis when you’re dealing with children, adolescents, and young adults.
Interestingly and ironically, the planning in lesson design is routine practice with folks who are fresh out of a teacher preparation or credentialing program. However, somewhere along the line, a “vacuum” of sorts gets created and the wholesale planning stops—wide or narrow scale; not so much so in elementary education, but definitely in secondary; furthermore, “retreading or recycling” occurs, followed by “silo teaching”; instructional pedagogy stagnates, resulting in a recalcitrance and deteriorating classroom climates, cultures, and ethos. Granted, this cascading decline doesn’t happen everywhere; it happens enough though. Perhaps it’s a latent effect of the misaligned makeup of schools and systems, whose industrial age or “factory model” mindsets and practices still permeate the K12 landscape. Nevertheless, the evolving nature of technologies and digital (first language learner) students in the information age requires a fundamental or wholesale shift as it relates to daily planning in terms of pedagogical/professional practice. Indeed, Common Core State Standards will leave no room for this continued mindset. Otherwise, teaching and learning, and student learning outcomes will suffer—mightily.
Yes, this is the curious paradox or “non-discussable” as it relates to the teaching profession—almost to elephant in the room status: as folks journey through years of the profession, somewhere along the line, the planning stops; and, so too the learning stops. Good lesson design requires consistent planning. Indeed, many schools and systems are rethinking daily schedules and scheduling to incorporate times and spaces for this daily planning to occur—both collectively and individually. Perhaps reflective or courageous conversation about the nature of and importance of planning as daily practice is in order. It is a necessary thought to ponder for many reasons, and maybe one of the pieces of good news as it relates to Common Core is there will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide for folks who don’t practice good planning.
Good ideas about lessons, instruction, or daily practice are all for not if elephants continue to stand in the room—and we continue to submit great ideas about teaching and learning without talking about the fact elephants are, indeed, in the room…