When Lessons Go ‘Wrong’

What do you do when a lesson goes pear-shaped?

You could panic and break out into a cold sweat.

You could freeze and go into statue-mode.

You could leave the room and take a one-way ticket to Rio (extreme).

Or you could ‘Improvise, Adapt, Overcome’.

The unofficial military mantra ‘Improvise, Adapt, Overcome’ (IAO) is a surefire way of overcoming challenges and part of the positive mindset you need to teach….as well as do just about anything else.

Lessons don’t always go to plan because they are fluid events unless of course you lock them into a bullet-point straitjacket.

Detailed lesson plans might sound like a good idea but they are for control freaks who don’t enjoy the unexpected and don’t allow a lesson to breathe and expand.

The idea of a lesson isn’t to shepherd pupils to a learning pen like sheep. The lesson has to have some structure but it can go in many different directions according to what children know, don’t know and partly know. You go with the lesson as it unfolds and that means constant editing, improvising, adapting and overcoming.

Detailed lesson plans are for ‘safe’ teaching but they are rigid and constraining. Lessons throw curve balls and in a tightly focused lesson with no room for manoeuvre learning needs aren’t being met and learning opportunities are being missed left, right and centre.

A lesson is a lesson for everyone in the room – teachers have to problem-solve, think on their feet, recalculate, refocus and have more than a Plan B.

The IAO mindset is important but so that you don’t get deflated and discouraged. If a lesson isn’t ‘going’ how you thought then good, it’s challenged you and is testing your ability to regroup and reshape. A lesson doesn’t have to be loose and free-range but it does need plenty of freedom and flexibility in order for ideas and experiences to move beyond the Teacher’s book with all of its fancy step-by-step points.

Teacher’s books are great. Some are so well-written that someone off the street with zero teaching experience could pick one up and teach from it. They go into incredible detail and plot a complete course from start to finish. They normally come with an arsenal of materials. But this isn’t a war-zone.

The problem is, they are too detailed, ridiculously detailed and to follow them would be madness.

Every class is different and the way a lesson unfolds won’t match what’s in the Teacher’s book.

These are wonderful guides to have but they are dangerous because teachers rely on them like a pair of crutches and forget how to move and teach themselves.

Use them by all means but don’t follow every bullet-point, every step and feel obliged to cover the same ground. This is someone else’s interpretation of what a lesson should look like. They don’t know your context, your pupils, your experience. These are general guides nothing more not rule-books and survival kits with all the answers.

Every lesson is a lesson in retuning and refining because you never know what children will say and what level of sophistication they are working at. The worst lessons are those that ignore what children have done before and follow a predetermined agenda. These are sure to be stale and tetchy lessons that fail children.

Lesson-planning energy is best spent on teaching in the moment not crystal ball-gazing and predicting. Every lesson is a lesson stepping into the unknown and requires courage.

The point is, lessons don’t go wrong, they unfold and they should be allowed to grow. If you want to keep a lid on learning then follow a detailed lesson plan. If you want real learning to take place then improvise, adapt and overcome.

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