Why planning for "fun" isn't recommended...
…and what you should do instead.
Hello! Welcome to the 9th edition of Things in Education, the fortnightly newsletter through which we hope to share the latest in education research and developments in the form of accessible summaries and stories to help you in the classroom and at home.
In one of our conversations with a group of teachers, a teacher said that she had a great activity for a topic that she wanted to do in class. It was hands-on, interactive, and helped students collaborate, and the overall atmosphere was that of fun. At the end of the activity there was a sense of accomplishment - for the students because they had done something different in class, and for the teacher because she thought that she had hit upon a new way to engage with students on what was otherwise a non-favourite topic among students. The topic here was taxonomy in biology which entails students understanding how animals, plants and other organisms have been classified and grouped according to certain biological rules. Without an engaging activity most times, this is a monotonous lesson with students trying to understand the rules for classification. The teacher said that she was extremely satisfied at the end of her activity because she had been able to engage the students during a class of taxonomy! A few days later when she tested the students on the topic, she realised to her dismay that the students’ understanding was not up to the mark.
I was just trying to make a dull lesson more interesting. I thought if it was interesting, it would really help student learning and understanding.
We spoke to the teacher and her colleagues. In our opinion they got their sequence of lesson planning a little mixed up. It is attractive to think of the most engaging activities and build a lesson plan around that. But something very important may get lost in that – student learning and understanding.
Say, you decide to go for a trek. What is the first thing you decide? The snacks? The scenes you may see? The route? The safety? I am sure you may have said yes to some of those things. But you cannot decide any of those without knowing where you are going. If you don’t know the destination, how will you be able to decide on what route to take or how many snacks to carry?
In the same way, while designing a lesson plan the first thing you must decide is the destination. The destination for a lesson plan is the learning outcomes that you wish the students to meet at the end of the lesson. So the first step in figuring out what you need to do in the lesson is figuring out where the students need to reach.
In your trek, will it make a difference where you start from? Yes. In the same way it makes a difference where your students are starting from in their learning journey before the lesson. You need to know the prerequisites and be able to quickly check if the students are all around the same level and that they are ready to begin the journey of your lesson plan. If students are not ready, they may need remedial or accelerated learning, which is a topic for another edition.
You know what your destination is, you know where you are starting from. What next? Now can we plan the fun snacks and activities? Almost! How will you know when you have reached your destination? How will you know if you are on the correct trail to reach your destination (Google will not be able to say, “You have arrived” in the remote location where you are trekking)? You will need some evidence to tell you that you are at the destination, maybe some landmark or some physical feature. These proofs of you reaching your destination are like assessments that need to plan to ensure you understand whether the student has met the learning outcomes or not.
So just like you need to have milestones or check points to ensure that you are on the right track to reach the destination while on a trek, you will need quick formative assessments to ensure that students are progressing from their current learning level to meet their learning goals.
Taking a break from the entire trek and lesson planning analogy to point out that the first steps of lesson planning are to:
Fix measurable learning outcomes
Decide on the assessments to check whether learning outcomes have been met or not. This is important for you and the students to know when a learning outcome will be considered as met.
Plan quick formative assessments to check if the students are progressing toward the learning outcomes.
As you can see, we have not even begun thinking about how and when to use the textbook or what activities to do. This is an important change that is crucial to planning effective lessons. The student learning outcomes and the evidence to say that the student has met the learning outcome or not should be at the centre of all lesson planning.
Back to the trek, then! Now that you know where you need to reach, where you are starting from and what it will look like once you have reached the destination, you can appreciate it will be much easier for you to plan what and how many snacks to carry, what you can do on the way, and so on. In the exact same way, even for lesson planning only once you know what the learning outcomes are and how you are going to assess whether a student has met the learning outcomes, can you then plan your activities or what parts of the textbook will need to be referred to at what point of time in the lesson.
So what we essentially told the teacher was not to focus on doing the most fun or even engaging activity and plan the rest of the lesson around it. Keep the learning outcomes in focus and plan fun and engaging activities around the outcomes.
The summer of learning is here!
We have two teacher professional development courses starting next weekend. Register here.
This course dives deep into the 3 domains of early reading: print awareness, phonological awareness, and alphabet knowledge. A key focus area is building skills of hearing individual letter sounds and then mapping them to letters to build strong alphabet knowledge and read short words and sentences.
Thinking of transitioning to a project-based learning classroom? This is the best course to hand hold you through the process. We will understand what PBL, what changes in behaviour and vocabulary is needed from educators to ensure smooth learning of students in a PBL classroom.
If you found this newsletter useful, please share it.
If you received this newsletter from someone and you would like to subscribe to us, please click here.