Sunday, 20 December 2015

To use or not to use

The following content draws its inspiration from a thread on ‘Lesson Plan’ initiated by Omar Sattar in English as a Foreign Languag (EFL) group at Linkedin:
How important is lesson planning? Do you always manage to stick to it? Why / why not?

To use or not to use
Teaching can happen as a ‘planned’ or a free-wheeling activity.

Lesson Plan                    
Roughly speaking, a lesson plan contains the topic, activities, method, prefaced by 'expected / learning outcome' and the like.

Generally speaking, those who undergo a formal training programme are guided to prepare lesson plans; teacher trainers present sample lesson plans, critique the trainees’ attempts, help them rewrite, rephrase or rearrange the written representations, observe them teach, show possible mismatches between the plan and the actual teaching and how to get over them and thus polish the pre-teaching activity. In other words, lesson plan is considered an essential ingredient of a teaching activity.

Teachers, fresh or experienced, are expected to prepare plans for every period, have them vetted by the Head of the department, ratified by the Head of the institution and use them to teach. The Head observes the performance, evaluates how closely their subordinates follow their lesson plans, applauds the effort or point out the deviations—totally or partly—from the lesson plan and expects near-perfect synchronisation between the plan and the teaching.

The inference is obvious. Teachers get the impression that the lesson plan is the Bible, and their classroom performance is graded and their teaching ability is decided on how closely they follow their lesson plans, and these grades are vital to receiving increments and promotions. So you couldn’t fault teachers if they followed their plans religiously. As a result, innovation goes out the window and the routine occurs with a monotony that can affect learning besides affecting the teacher’s mindset. A more serious problem faces the teacher when they have to clear a doubt or answer a question raised or posed by a student for the simple reason the teacher comes to the class ‘prepared’ and there’s no room for such learner ‘intrusions’ in the lesson plan. It can be very embarrassing not to be able to respond and such frustration can trigger anger to the amusement or anguish of the student and other students. If only their ego permitted them to say, ‘Sorry, I have no answer right now but will definitely find out and let you know.’ There’s a possibility that such confessions might occur frequently, especially in the case of teachers who are in their ‘teething’ stage.

Free-wheeling is an option that gives the teacher the freedom to handle syllabus items on the spur of the moment using his subject and general knowledge. But it involves a certain amount of risk because the teacher can flounder in the middle and not know how to proceed further, especially in the case of inexperienced teachers to whom it can be a confidence booster or eroder. However, since ‘supervision’ doesn’t occur every day, teachers can try their hand at innovating and possibly succeed if they’re knowledgeable and skillful enough. 

 Teachers who’re engaged in private tuitions are freer than teachers in a formal environment have the freedom to innovate. Almost. I use ‘almost’ advisedly because though they don’t have to answer to any ‘authority’, they’re answerable to their students and their growth as users of a given language or as knowledge seekers. Besides, if they don’t handle their desire to innovate carefully and skilfully, it can lead them astray and the consequences can be disastrous if students drop out, and income can dry up.

A sample
My contribution to Omar’s thread:
Let’s take the simple present tense.
1. Topic            : simple present tense
2. Source          : text book, (others, so your supervisor will know you do your homework)
3. Purpose        : contrasting it with present progressive (this tense must have already been
4. Details          : highlighting the differences in their uses
5. Presentation  :
• recapitulate the present progressive through black board work / exercises getting learners
   to participate
• introduce the simple present (writing on the board / have visuals)
• distinguish 'real' present between the 'ever' present
• provide simple exercises (orally or/and written)

A lady contributor to the thread said:
“I'd like to differ with almost all of you.
I consider that a planned lesson is very likely to be a failed lesson, because it cannot respond to the students' needs in the here and now, which I need to do if I want them to learn.
“I do however usually know what I want the students to work on during the class. I just don't believe in teaching it to them and certainly not from a planned lesson.
There is no link between teaching and learning. It's not because I teach that they learn. If there were such a link there would be no need for exams. I would do what I do and everyone would know it. As we all know, this isn't how it works.
“So, I have to do what's necessary to get them learning, rather than actively teaching them. Since I am teaching spoken English, this means getting them to speak constantly, which I know how to do.
“I usually know what will happen in the first minute of the class. After that, the class and I improvise as we collectively make up the lesson as we go along. They talk to each other about themselves and my role is to correct what they say as we go along.
“It works very well in practice.”

And she responded to my lesson plan with:
“Here's what I do.
“I go into class and ask, 'What do you do every morning?' and then when they can say the question well, I get one of the students to ask another, and the second student has to reply. The rest of the lesson takes place in the Present.
“The only rule is, every sentence must be true to the students' lives.
“- I get up at 7, I have breakfast, I take the bus to work...
- What about you?
- I get up at 7.30, I don't have breakfast. I drive to work.
  I have a big lunch at 1o'clock, I'm hungry. etc
“Then we can go on with "Fred gets up earlier than Marie" or whatever. Since the students are responsible for the content, I can't get all this ready beforehand. All I decide is what the initial question will be.
“My role is to correct and to feed in vocabulary as and when necessary. Everything important in the language comes up sooner or later.”

There is ‘security’ in the lesson plan, though the ‘going’ is controlled both the teacher (consciously) and the students (subconsciously) know where they’re going. But there can be joy in free-wheeling. The ‘going’ is not controlled and both the teacher and the student can meander and lose their way. Perhaps ‘joy’ can follow ‘security’ and can go hand in hand with experience.

Look at it another way:
The method doesn’t matter as much as the result—occurrence and permanence of learning. Either way is fine as long as learners can retain the language use and put it to use whenever necessary. It’s not how the teacher thinks learners learn, it’s what makes learning occur that matters. Another equally important question to ask is: how discerning is the teacher? (or) how adaptable is the teacher?