Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ditch The Daily Lesson Plan...

Old Schoolphoto © 2008 Rob Shenk | more info (via: Wylio)

I know this probably won’t be popular, but if I am going to continue to talk about “New Forms” in education, this needs to be on the table.

Why are teachers still doing daily lesson plans? What is the conceptual (current, 21st century) framework around this traditionally rigid process? What is encapsulated in these daily snapshots that would not be better to see in either a weekly format or perhaps something a little more open-ended? (Meaning that if the learning takes 3 days, it takes 3 days…if it takes 6, so be it. What’s more important, the learning, or the time in which we expect the learning to occur?)

I’m not saying get rid of all daily moments…assessment, anchors, general instructional arc…but the whole six point lesson plan thing seems to be a foot in the door of 1985. Or 1955.

Perhaps the terminology is dated. I often say in workshops that teachers should stop the creation of the lesson “plan” and instead create lesson “events.” That which is memorable will stick. That which is traditional and “the same as always” will almost certainly be forgotten. Yet, in many schools, the traditional is so well entrenched that anyone doing great things is suspicious and certainly shouldn’t be trusted with children. Seriously.

What do you remember about your school experiences?

The worksheets you did? The drill and skill cursive writing? No? No memory of those things?

What about those moments that weren’t the same “day in / day out” minutiae? What about the field trips you took? What about that time your teacher dressed up as Jon Bon Jovi and sang the Periodic Table to you to the tune of “You Give Love A Bad Name?” (Which you can still remember verbatim, including the atomic weight of Carbon.)

I think I’m opening several cans of worms here. For one, what does the hierarchy of lessons look like if we remove the daily lesson plan, and two, is anything singular even worth planning for?

Briefly, let me address both.

A lesson typically fits into an instructional arc or subunit, tied into an overall unit, which is housed in a year of learning. This plan seems to me to perpetuate encapsulated moments that define when learning can take place. It’s kind of like going to the doctor on a Monday morning with a broken arm and the doctor saying that he’s sorry, but broken limbs aren’t dealt with until Friday, or maybe February.

But WHAT IF (I like saying “What If…”) things weren’t so compartmentalized? What if the process for deconstructing curriculum, breaking apart standards, and precisely defining skills and methodologies was a little messier, and deleted the daily lesson plan in favor of “LESSONS” plans? We could still address common threads and connections through UNITS, but the plans themselves look at the whole neighborhood, instead of just one house. (Know what I mean?)

But then, that opens up the second can of worms. The singular content area lesson. One skill, one piece of content, one content area, one assessment…everything one at a time and separated from everything else. It’s all very neat and linear, but it seems very limiting. I have a hunch that sometime in the very near future, the definition of what a 21st Century educator is will include the total abandonment of singular content lessons. The future is in integration.

If you think about the “real world” that we’re preparing kids for, how often is the “real world” day broken up into science moments, math moments, writing moments, etc? We engage all of these things at all times. Also, it’s not like integrated units are anything innovative…there’s been tons of research and lots of books written specifically providing examples of how to do it. So why isn’t it happening? Kids don’t need a six-week unit on mastering quotation marks; they need to learn to master the quotation marks piece in the screenplay they write collaboratively about the people of Iceland solving problems around a catastrophic tectonic event that includes the gathering and analysis of quantitative data. (See what I did right there?)

There’s other cans of worms here…the reformation of assessment practices (Think Denmark! Think Japan!), the realignment of associated skills with differentiated instruction and backwards design models, the deep understanding of curriculum design – specifically prioritization and consensus anchor knowledge, the singular student / singular product mode, etc.

I’m thinking out loud here. If you’ve read this far, I hope it’s because you’ve either been inspired or angered. What are your thoughts? How do we innovate the “lesson plan?” How do we tear it down, build it up, upgrade it, dispose of it, or grow it? Or do we just keep the blinders on and hope for the best with what we’ve got?


  1. Planning is important--writing is a disciplined form of thinking and there is much to suggest that the science of curricula design and instruction is just as important as the art. When you suggested ditching the lesson plan, I got a little knot in my stomach for a minute there. What I understand of what you're suggesting makes sense to me, though. One challenge I see: this is complex stuff, and sometimes, teachers I know struggle to formally plan in traditional ways for a whole lot of reasons (time being one that's referred to often). How do we support the kind of work you're speaking to? I'm thinking if that could happen, a whole lot of other issues would be addressed as well...(and btw, The Fishers won the Christmas Card race this year in our house. First in! Congrats and looking forward to the "interaction" when the girls get home).

  2. I have long felt that the traditional six point lesson plan should be a thing of the past. Should planning for long term and short term learning goals occur? Absolutely. But to be perfectly honest, I rarely ever write traditional lesson plans. Instead I plan for the bigger picture and integrate all the little things along the way. My plan book is more like an outline or agenda along with a place for feedback and making notes about student progress. I'm in my ninth year of teaching and nearing the end of my master's degree studies, and yet I probably still couldn't write a "good" six point lesson plan. I always get tripped up with the whole "teacher input" versus "guided practice" versus "independent practice." I feel like this compartmentalizes things too much. Plus not all lessons lend themselves to every single one of those components. It just seems unnatural and impossible to pack everything up in those neat little boxes if you are truly building upon all of the concepts that were previously taught and integrating other skills sets and content into your subject area.