Lesson Planning 2.0

When I am pulling together resources for a lesson plan, I usually read through the text assigned to students, read the pertinent sections from whatever books are a part of my secret syllabus for that course, and then start searching the internet for images, primary sources, black line masters, and activity ideas that can enhance my students’ learning experience. I always rely on my own resources first because I am familiar with my own books and notes, but I usually look to internet sources to avoid having to re-invent too many wheels.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that carrying a binder of photocopies and lesson plans through my career was not for me. I wanted to get with the times and keep my resources digital; consequently, I am always hopeful that the internet will provide me with helpful teaching tools. Sadly, I am frequently disappointed with the quality or availability of teaching resources, and I am sure that many of my colleagues often feel the same way. I imagine that they do what I do – lift the general concept and transform it into something that is actually engaging for students and will last more than fifteen minutes. (Because let’s be serious some of the online lessons promising to last for a whole period would not play for even half that time in the real world!) Unless the resource or lesson idea is superb, we really do not want to directly copy the resource; however, it is incredibly helpful to have digital activity plans and worksheets that can be adapted, changed, chopped into little bits, and made our own. In short, we need Lesson Planning 2.0 where lessons, skill practice, and content are collected together but in discreet packages that can be universally accessed and infinitely hacked. Lesson Planning 2.0 would challenge some educators to move beyond simply printing a worksheet off the internet and instead plan for their specific group of students, and our learners would benefit by receiving lessons that had been thoughtfully tailored to their own interests and learning needs.

The internet can provide teachers with ready access to the tools necessary for enhancing students’ learning experiences. Until we start advocating for dynamic databases that encourage users to continually add value to these applications, educators will limit the professional collaborative opportunities presented by the internet and Web 2.0.

Lesson Plans: To Share Around or Stow Away?

Throughout my B.Ed year, I have had the opportunity to share some really wonderful resources with classmates and come away with a variety of teaching and classroom management strategies. Perhaps more significantly, my Associate Teachers were willing to share their library of resources with me; however, they asked me not to pass these resources on any further. While I will faithfully use these resources only for planning my own lessons, I must argue that many teachers are overly worried about giving away lesson plans and resources. Like the chisel in the hands of a master craftswoman or craftsman, teaching tools will have the greatest impact on students when implemented by confident, competent, and reflective educators. The presentation and execution of an activity guarantees its success and value; when the activity is written down on a page, it has only the potential for creating a successful teachable moment.

I must admit that I did recently withhold complete lesson plans in favour of providing brief outlines of the activities I had led, but in the future I hope to be much more free with the content that I put together. Many of my best ideas are adaptations I have pulled from other contexts, so the lessons I create are only in part my own to begin with. If I take the time to type out, label, and organize my lessons, I should consider this a favour to fellow educators.

I suppose that sharing our treasured binders of lessons and activities strikes at the very heart of humility in education.

Leading the Way in Inconsistent Behaviour

The students who participate in planning leadership camps at my practicum school are incredibly passionate about and dedicated to creating a leadership camp experience that builds on the fantastic time that they themselves had as delegates only a few years before. At the camp that I helped to supervise in the late fall, I was stunned to learn that these students were willing and able to provide a quality camp to delegates when running on only a few hours of sleep. Their motivation in that moment was such that, whether or not this was a reasonable and healthy choice, they were willing to push their own physical limits in order to pull off the camp that they had been dreaming of and planning for the previous three months.

It was therefore so frustrating for me to attend a leadership planning meeting this past Monday to observe this dedicated group carrying on a multitude of side discussions throughout the course of their time together. Brainstorming was definitely less efficient with only part of the group tuned into the discussion, and the disregard that some students showed towards their peers was shocking. Were these the same individuals that had shown a united front dedicated to seeing through a quality leadership camp?

While many of the students involved in planning leadership camp have strong intrinsic motivations for directing considerable time and energy to this extracurricular activity, I wonder if the extrinsic rewards of being recognized as a member of the planning committee or validating the club to skeptical teachers are actually what focus the entire group to complete tasks. Perhaps these students acquire and demonstrate greater motivation as they are able to see the fruits of the labour. Because the group is so large, it may be that a consensus model is unwieldy for organizing such a large event. I believe that the energy these students invest into leadership camp can be directed towards other activities, but it is essential to identify and harness consistent sources of motivation rather than tapping unsustainable levels of commitment.

The Smooth Lesson

When I led Music & Drama sessions and Leader-In-Training sessions at Camp Kintail, it was always important for me to have quick, smooth transitions between activities in order to hold campers’ interest and attention. I also remember being told as an undergraduate student to work on smooth transitions between paragraphs in the essays that I wrote.

While observing my associate teachers and reflecting on my own practice, it occurred to me that leading a seamless lesson is every bit as important as creating smooth camp activities or essays. Students are given opportunities to lose focus when there are unexpected breaks between a mini-lecture and an activity or when certain lab materials still need to be pulled out. If I am mentally prepared for my lesson and have all my handouts and materials organized before the class, I think that I will be more successful in sustaining student focus on both teacher-centered and student-centered activities. Some students might be more motivated to engage in class work and activities if they feel that I am organized and not wasting their time trying to get my own act together. Other students who have trouble staying on task throughout an entire period might simply benefit from having a constant and consistent focus for the full seventy minutes.

The ability to lead a smooth, seamless lesson is thus not only a classroom management technique but also a pathway to success for students who experience difficulties learning in a classroom setting.

The Queen’s University Teachers’ Overseas Recruiting Fair

This time last week I was walking into my final interview of the day at the Teachers’ Overseas Recruiting Fair at Queen’s University. It had been an exhausting day: I had already prepared for and attended four other interviews, considered a job offer, attended presentations, and imagined myself working on three different continents. Over the course of the day I experienced moments of joy, anxiety, success, nervousness, confusion, compassion, relief, sadness, and clarity. I consider the day and the weekend a success in spite of these mixed feelings and the fact that I did not sign a contract before driving back home at the fair’s end. I had gotten what I wanted out of the fair: the opportunity to practice being in an interview, to gauge my marketability as a teacher, and to simply experience TORF and what went on there.

I fully plan on returning to the fair in a few years, and I expect that I will find a school that is the right fit for me. I would strongly encourage anybody interested in working abroad as an educator to attend this fair, as it is very well-organized and run by the Placement Office at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Education.

I felt I was just about as prepared as I could be for this fair, but there are definitely a few points that I would tell anybody planning on attending TORF, and so following is a list of things to remember before heading to the recruitment fair.

There are a lot of jobs available for a limited number of educators.
Being invited to an interview is exciting; being invited to a lot of interviews is overwhelming.
Remember not to feel pressured into taking a particular position.
Be aware of your gut feelings.
Come with a friend that you can check in with throughout the day.
Bring a laptop so that you can do some quick research about a school right before the interview.
Make time to attend information presentations put on by the schools since these sessions might paint a better picture of the school than the interviewer can during the interview itself.
Interviewers will start making their offers on the Saturday afternoon.
Ask about volunteer opportunities available near the school for which you are interviewing.
Know why you want to teach internationally, in the country where the school is located, at the school for which you are being interviewed, and the grade and subject for which you are being interviewed.
Listen to the advice of the interviewers.

Good Luck!

Motivating Students Through Extracurricular Involvement

With this revival of Humility in Education, I thought it would be best to start off with some posts that are fresh in my mind rather than bringing up concepts or challenges I encountered in the fall. Reflections on the fall will come with time, but let us examine the present for now.

As I returned to a school at which I have already spent two months teaching, I experienced a secret delight at being remembered by students I worked with or taught in October and December; however, it has been particularly fascinating to observe how excited the students I knew from a school leadership camp I helped to supervise were to discover that I would be their teacher for the month. It will be interesting to observe how their excitement is sustained over the course of this practicum as they get to know me as a teacher rather than as a supervisor for an extracurricular activity about which they are particularly passionate. In any case, their reaction to my presence suggests that building a professional relationship with students outside of the classroom can have an impact, at least initially, on student engagement in class activities. It is really affirming to know that participation in extracurricular activities, which can be a real joy for both students and educators, also has benefits that come into the classroom; consequently, I will need to make sure I get involved in the activities of whatever school I find myself at in the coming fall.