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The Only Constant is Change

2013/07/17

The linear and pristine pacing of a lesson plan is in stark contrast with the dynamic, and unforeseeable rhythm of the classroom. It would be like trying and sail a boat in a straight line without paying attention to waves and winds. You might be very dissapointed with the result. All the best teachers are flexible, on their toes, and mentally present to engage with their students. They know that as long as the ship is moving towards the destination, all is well. It will not help to get frustrated or emotional. It's been shown that students shut down when they feel anxiety or stress, so a teacher must be simultaneously insatiable for progress towards the lesson goal, while on the other hand be grateful for whatever progress is made.

So when my older students came in today, maybe it was their previous class, maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the temperamental nature of their age group, but I could tell that today I would have to be especially flexible with them, or I would be tearing my hair out by the end of the lesson. The plan called for some demanding group discussion up front, followed by some more laid-back individual book work. Although it didn't seem natural to the flow of the lesson when I wrote the plan, I decided to switch the activities to better suit the immediate mood of the students. I could tell they didn't want to engage with me or each other, so we began with the individual work and it allowed them to sink their teeth into something and help reset their attitudes. By the time we finished their workbooks, they were in better spirits and ready to participate as a group. So although the lesson wasn't as smooth as I had planned, we still got through the material, and the overall reception of the class was better for having the lesson bent to fit their emotional needs.

That said, there are also times where it pays to stick to the course, and not to change the plan, but to discipline the students to adapt to your lesson plan. But there are also times when it pays to bend with how the students are feeling, or to lower or raise expectations depending on student understanding. It is a skill that is gained with experience, and the mark of a good teacher is one who can bend and flow with their students immediate needs, and yet also knows when to stay firm and demand compliance. So when you are creating the plans for your lessons it's always a good idea to allow for some flexibility from the start. Some Inquiry-Based Learning programs encourage creating a plan before class, but leaving that plan behind as soon as the class begins, as there is no way a teacher can imagine how students will engage and evolve with the lesson once it has begun. The truth is that the only constant in life is change, and that allowing for flexibility makes the class a better fit for both the students, and the teacher.

 

What do you think? Do you stick to your guns and work to get your students on board? Is that what helps keep results consistently progressing? Or do you plan for the unexpected and let students have a stronger say in how the class progresses? Please give me some feedback in the comments section on Facebook, I'd love to hear your stories, your opinions, or your snarky jokes.

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