Lesson Design (Rather than Planning)

When I was an undergraduate student studying to become an educator, my peers and I took great pride in our lesson planning. When I was a graduate student (I completed my masters degree at the end of my 12th year as a teacher), my peers who had yet to teach wrote lesson plans with great care. When I was teaching during my masters studied, I took pride in putting multiple weeks’ worth of lessons plans on a single sheet of paper. The teacher who was also a graduate student was surely too cavalier with regards to lesson planning. My recollections are that those who have yet to teach are too confident with their lesson planning.  

In reality, planning is one of the least certain tasks an educator undertakes. The lesson planner can be sure of what they intend to teach; it may even be articulated in measurable learning outcomes (the value of which is dubious). The teacher also believes they know how to present the material so that students achieve those outcomes. Further, they believe they know how students can best demonstrate what they learn. Other than the intended outcomes, planning is grounded in guessing (well let’s say predicting) how students will be learning from the intended lessons and the degree to which the assessments will capture the intended learning. 

 Because responsible educators will seek to minimize the about of guessing they do, they will design lessons rather than plan them. Design is a process whereby faculty seek to improve their lessons by: 

  • Questioning the outcomes. Is this really what they should have been? Dod students demonstrate them? Are there different outcomes that were achieved? 
  • Question the presentation. How did students engage with the lesson? You can include your own observations, but those of students are equally important (if not more important). What did they notice in the lesson you did not. What suggestions do they have on how to improve it. Capture the observations of others as well if you were lucky enough to have someone else in the teaching space. 
  • Queston the technology. How did the technology work? Think broadly about technology. The degree to which the IT functioned as intended is important. Were the materials accessible? 
  • Question the learning. Did the demonstrations of learning meet your expectations? What did students demonstrate? What was missing? What do they know that was not captured, and how might you capture that? 

The answers to these questions will begin the design of the lesson. Revise the lesson incorporating what you learned, especially what you learned from the students who experienced it, into the next version of the lesson. 

The purpose of lesson design is two-fold. First, improve the lesson. What can you do next time to make it more effective and more efficient, and even more enjoyable. A general rule of thumb is that a course or lesson doesn’t become good (from the perspective of the teacher) until the third iteration. Second, improve the teaching. Record discoveries about the tools (both the practices and the technologies you used. Consider how you can improve the lesson when you next teach the lesson to similar students. Consider, also, how you can improve your teaching in other courses or how other teachers could benefit from what you learned.