Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Everything You Need To Know About Lesson Plans

When I was a junior businessman back in my twenties, people were always talking about plans: first came the mission statement, then some objectives or goals, then strategies, then tactics. You couldn't start anything without a written plan. I'd learned how to write various types of business proposals in college and had found that I had the sort of personality that enjoyed piecing them together. I liked creating the internal logic that made them, to my mind, works of art. I liked how one could make them flow from one thing to the next, almost like a work of fiction, and I especially liked the challenge of making doughy ideas sound like something make from concrete. From the very start, I understood these plans to be sales documents. Never once did it occur to me that anyone, myself included, would actually adhere to these plans once the "sale" was made.

Even as a young man, I'd learned that life is too uncertain for plans, at least not ones that go into such mechanistic detail. Certainly, they provide a starting line (which is always right now) and indicate in which direction to take our first steps (which is always one foot in front of the other). And I suppose plans serve as a way to sort of organize a group of people around a common cause, but no matter how much we plan, we are soon making prat falls, getting lost, learning new things, finding our assumptions were way off, encountering unexpected obstacles, having new ideas, warring with previously unknown enemies, and generally, you know, living life.

I summoned the courage one day to express these thoughts to a more seasoned businessman who assured me that I was right, saying, "If your plan is not a living thing, it is a dead thing," which is why most plans, most of the time, wind up bearing little resemblance to what actually happens: they are written in stone which is dead, immovable, and heavy to lug around. The plans that actually come to fruition are the ones that are spoken into the air, existing only while they are useful, then forgotten as the next plan is spoken.

Someone recently asked me about "lesson plans," those ubiquitous blueprints that many teachers are expected to draft on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, detailing what the children they teach will be doing and learning throughout the day. I feel much the same way about these plans as I did business plans. The closest I've ever come to drafting a lesson plan is that I sometimes write down a list of "activities" or materials I think the children might want to have available to them on any given day, a list to jog my own memory based upon conversations and observations from the day or hour or minute before. In other words, the self-made plans the children have "spoken into the air." In a play-based curriculum, the children's own ideas form the lesson plan. I am there to support their projects as best I can understand them and when they have their inevitable prat falls, get lost, learn new things, find their assumptions are way off, encounter obstacles, have new ideas, and war with enemies, I am there to support them in their revised, living, plans as well.

I had a business colleague, a young man about my age, who posted inspirational quotations on the walls of his cubicle. One of them read: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." Another said, "Plan your work. Work your plan." What grim counsel to give, especially to a young person. Where is the room for living, for getting lost, for taking the scenic route? I imagine that there are some teachers who swear by their lesson plans, but most of the teachers I know are only going through the motions to satisfy a requirement of their employment, creating documents that can be put in a file, plans that are as dead as dead can be. These teachers know that the real lesson plan is the one that the children themselves bring to life each time they exhale.

I know some teachers who subversively wait until the end of the day to write their lesson plans. Those are the only "plans" to which anyone has ever adhered.

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