Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rethinking Lesson Planning

Every lesson plan template I've ever seen looks similar to the following:
Taken from:
While teachers use these templates less and less as they become more experienced (unless, of course,  they are faced with district mandates/evaluations/"we don't think you work hard enough so here's something else to do").  That said, I find that the paradigm of developing lessons in a linear fashion remains. I'm going to reach my goals by doing X, then Y, then Z. Issues I have with tempates aside, I have been recently thinking about alternative ways to conceptualize lesson planning (like any scaffold, a template can be helpful when starting but can also be limiting. I still rue the fact that in high school I was taught how to write 5 paragraph essays REALLY well, but was never given the freedom to break from this structure).

Here's my initial stab at a way to think about lesson planning that is less linear and, hopefully, more supportive of best practices around student exploration and constructivist learning. For now, I'm calling it a lesson web.

Created with Mindjet MindManager

At the center of this web is a central skill, concept, or habit. Some of your goals for the lesson (which you can write down separately) will be directly connected to this central topic. From this central topic, you can brainstorm three things:
  • problems 
  • potential methods for solving problems within the realm of the central topic
  • potential misconceptions related to the central topic
Relationship links (the red arrows) connect specific problems to specific methods and misconceptions. Building these relationships is crucial, as it will serve as a check to make sure you are giving students problems that address potential misconceptions and desired method (while I personally don't think teaching specific algorithms is necessary, I understand that being familiar with a standard algorithm can sometimes make communication more efficient).

At the next level, problems branch into possible variations, extensions, and generalizations.  In my classroom these are developed by both me and my students.  These problems can also be connected to a new central topic, making this not only a template for lesson planning, but really a curriculum map.

Misconceptions can also link to problems that will help expose or eliminate those particular misconceptions.

Things I like
  • When giving students the flexibility to create their own problems and develop their own methods, the teacher needs to anticipate what students might do. This structure supports this. Teachers can even use this to outline the order in which students will share out (for example, starting with students who used method 1, then method 2, etc).
  • This structure is easy to adapt. After the lesson, it's easy to add new methods students came up with that you didn't think about or misconceptions that students had. This also gives the teacher a tool to use the problems students create as a springboard for future topics (making new connections between problems and topics).
  • While I have the topic playing the central role, you could just as easily start with a problem or a misconception and build the web from there.
Things I don't like
  • There's no assessment (formative or summative) built into this. This is something that a teacher will have to think about in parallel to building their web.
  • Sometimes my primary goal for a class might lead to a web where one or more of these fields don't naturally fit in.  For example, if my goal is to promote communication between partners, I can imagine problems that might help meet this goal, but I'm not sure what a "misconception" would look like or what different "methods" students might develop. 
  • This is a lot more work than just going with my gut and adapting on my feet. :)
Next step? Developing a lesson web for a specific topic.



  1. I would like to see the next step. I like the concept - since, once again we are being told "script this - spend the time this year and it will be easier next year." Yeah yeah. If you hadn't said the same thing the last 4 years with 4 different formats I might believe you.

  2. Clearly identifying objectives and misconceptions is part of assessment, and it would be easy to add questions on that would connect to those. Regardless, I'm excited to see the next step.

    I think it's important to develop different representations for lesson and unit plans because teachers are almost as diverse as students.

  3. I am intrigued by this idea! As a college student currently seeking my teacher certification, I am smack dab in the middle of learning all about lesson plans. We are taught a couple of different forms, but there is one main outline that we are generally expected to follow, and I just sort of don't vibe with the way we are expected to set up our plan. Considering I'll be such a new teacher, I understand why they would show us how to make a plan with so much structure, rigidity, and explicit explanation of the lesson. It'll help us stay organized and focused on moving forward. However, I just don't see myself using this method for the decades to come. I like the feel of this 'lesson web' concept a lot more, and am very curious to see how it may develop or grow!

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