Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Yes, Lesson Plans. But--

I don't think a week goes by that I don't find someone on the interwebs arguing that writing out lesson plans is a big fat waste of time. I'm not convinced.

I've worked with too many student teachers and even beginning teachers who really needed to write lesson plans. They were stepping in front of a class without really figuring out what exactly they were doing, why they were doing it, or how they would know that they had accomplished it. Their lesson plans were basically "Cover chapter 3" or "Go over punctuation rules." A written lesson plan is a good way to figure out what you're going to do, particularly at the point of your career where you don't have any of the elements of a lesson programed into your brain well enough to use them reflexively.

Also, it's appropriate for teachers to give some account of what they're doing in the classroom.

That said, here are some ways to do written lesson plans that don't do anybody any good.

Detailed explanation of standards alignment. Whether it's Common Core or your state's renamed Common Core or some original state standards, there are administrators who love this alignment baloney. It isn't helpful for the teacher in designing or delivering instruction, but folks in the main office love it for providing a paper trail of "proof" that your school is totally hitting all the standards, or for doing some kind of alignment study to identify "gaps." Either way, it's bureaucratic paper shuffling, not actual lesson preparation.

Mindless adherence to a particular template. If the teacher is asking "What can I use to fill in these blanks" instead of "How do I want to design this lesson," they're wasting their time. This crops up especially if your district uses some digital lesson plan platform, thereby guaranteeing that the lesson plan will not be in a location or form that is at all useful to the teacher (unless she prints the lesson plans out on paper). 

So much detail that a semi-literate chimp could deliver the lesson. Because no amount of detail will make that possible, unless the teacher involved is a Instructional Deliver Meat Widget. This is why your lesson plans get shorter as you gather experience; you no longer need to write out the full details of how you introduce the usage unit. Yes, maybe there will be a substitute in for you, but let's face it--they probably aren't certified in your area, anyway, and you're going to end up creating some foolproofish sub plans separate from what you would do if you were there.

Note: Beware administrators who demand this kind of painful detail; they're spending too much time thinking about how they could eliminate dependence on actual human employees.

Just copying over the instructions from the canned teaching program. First, if the detailed lesson plans are already in the canned teacher-proof program that your district bought and now insists you implement "with fidelity," why should you be copying it over? What is the point? Second, if that's what your district is doing, leave and find a better job. That is not teaching, and shame on your administration.

Playing administrative cat and mouse. This is when the whole "turn in your written lesson plans" thing is just administrators playing gotcha with staff, trying to catch them not planning the right things or violating some valuable paperwork rule. I consider these situations fair game for writing any old thing on the plans, and if you're ever called on it, just explain you had to make some changes on the fly. This is Dilbert territory, where you lose time doing the job so that you can make a report on how the job is going. It wastes the time of every single person involved, so the goal is to waste as little of your own time as possible. 

The dust collectors. These are the lesson plans that teachers are required to write, secretaries are required to check off, and which nobody ever actually looks at ever again. This is some Kafkaesque baloney happening at some schools. 

You may have noticed the underlying theme here-- lesson plans are most useful when they are useful to the teacher. Include what you find useful in the format that you find useful. Everything else is no help in actual classroom teaching, and classroom teaching is supposed to be the point. 

I have long suspected that a school's lesson plan policy is a canary in the administrative coal mine, an indicator of whether administration is focused on helping teachers do the best job they can, or focused on treating teachers like large children who have to be made to jump through hoops to Keep Them Honest, whether the center of the school's work is in the classroom or in the front office. 


  1. I couldn't agree more. My lesson plans are notes to myself, notes I refer to if I forget what I'm going to do from one class to the next. There are a lot of ridiculous administrators who think that Writing More Crap is the key to a successful lesson. Of course, if they could teach a successful lesson, they may not have needed to become administrators.

  2. I recently had this experience. Somehow I just write down the pages that I will do for I do/We do/ You do/ and then I put who's in small group but my details will either be on a post it with said worksheet or on the powerpoint. For me it doesnt help that I have to have everything so detailed when it will be on my slides anyway.

  3. Check out what Al Shanker had to say about observations and lesson plans: