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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Lesson Planning: More Like Stocking the Fridge Than Following A Recipe

I don’t plan like most teachers. I always hated having a comprehensive, detailed script before I taught a lesson.  

The reason? Over planning can stifle creativity, flexibility, and being present when teaching.

I have observed teachers who were so focused on following their detailed lesson plan that they forgot about the teaching and the students in front of them. They were just trying to get through the lesson. There was no presence, no enjoyment, no authenticity.

Of course, on the other hand, you can spot a teacher that isn’t prepared for a lesson. They have no idea what they are teaching or why. They are not clear about how the lesson connects to the previous lesson or builds towards the next one. They have no materials or resources ready. They are winging it, flying by the seat of their pants.

So what’s the happy medium? Where is the point where a teacher is prepared but not held back by a prescribed lesson plan? I think the following analogy might help.

I don’t look at teaching as following an exact recipe. A recipe means you follow the steps exactly, approaching cooking more like a science than an art.

Instead, I envision teaching more like pulling together a dish for company that has come to your house, maybe even unexpectedly. Imagine guests coming over. You think about what type of food they might like and what they may not like. Oh, I know they like Italian because we went to that restaurant, but wait she’s a vegetarian. Also, they have young children, who won’t likely eat what the adults are eating. You visit the grocery store and stock up on foods and ingredients based on what you know about your guests. You have an idea for some recipes but you remain open to possibilities.

Once in the kitchen, the magic begins and you start putting together dishes. You end up slightly burning the garlic bread and decide to transform it into bruschetta. You decide to make two salads: one without meat, the other with Italian cold cuts. This goes on and you end up pulling off a tasty meal.

Like this, teaching is more like pulling together different ingredients—while thinking on your feet in the process. Your fridge and shelves are stocked—it’s a matter of putting things together in the right order. You also consider what your students need in that moment, based on previous learning experiences. As a teacher, you are not afraid to experiment, to throw a dish out, to make a change, even in the middle of a lesson!

Before teaching, I know my learning objectives, the content and skills that must be taught, and I have considered my students’ needs. I then stock my shelves…I gather various resources-whether hands-on materials, digital technology, grouping strategies, active learning, etc. Then, as I teach, I begin to draw upon these resources, mixing them as I see fit, as the need presents itself. Sometimes, some resources get used more than others. Other times, I don’t even have time to use a resource I pulled, but it’s there in case I need it.

This is a more daring way to teach. More like walking a tightrope, a constant balancing act as you never know what will work or how things will unfold exactly, whether the dish will come out well. Most times it does. If a lesson doesn’t come off well, I reflect and consider how the resources and students interacted, whether the sequence was at fault or the resource itself. I go back to the kitchen and experiment again.

By approaching my teaching this way, it feels more authentic, raw, on the cusp of the present moment. This is the way I prepare to teach, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.