How We Can Avoid a Major Lesson Planning Misconception

One common misconception around how we should plan our lessons is that planning and creating lessons, course outlines, and assessments is all done in isolation.

There’s an iconic image of famous Fiction authors shutting themselves up in a cabin in the woods for months at a time and then emerge with this great manuscript.

This is actually a false image.

Most authors go through intense iterations of their books with many editors and audiences that provide feedback.

You many have this image that math lesson creators also lock themselves up in the teacher prep room to think up great lesson ideas only to miraculously emerge with perfect lessons. Or maybe you believe that we have magically created spiralled course outlines all by ourselves with little input from anyone else.

These things can’t be further from the truth. Every one of the lessons shared on this site and also any unit or course plans were all created in consultation with other teachers.

In fact, when Kyle Pearce and I first decided to change our course plans from the traditional textbook order to mixing up topics so we can maximize student retention through spiralling our math lessons, we created a joint outline with Google Sheets that we could each have input to. Planning lessons and courses should be collaborative effort.

In January 2018 I asked the twitter community “Your colleague is thinking of trying to teach through spiralling the curriculum. What are some SMALL changes they can make NOW so that’s it’s not overwhelming?”

Many teachers gave their suggestions but one comment really stuck with me, It was from Mary Bourassa,

She said,

“Lots of great replies but I would argue that most are not small changes. Switching to spiralling is a big change! My best advice is to plan a meeting with someone who has spiralled so that you can talk through your plan together. And make sure you know the curriculum really well.”

We need other people on our same teaching journey as we learn to create new lessons that meet our students need.

A book I highly recommend reading because it’s interesting with many great real-life stories and examples is The Creative Curve, How to develop the right idea at the right time. By Allan Gannett.

The main idea of this book is, and quoting from the publisher,

We have been spoon-fed the notion that creativity is the province of genius — of those favoured, brilliant few whose moments of insight arrive in unpredictable flashes of divine inspiration.  And if we are not a genius, we might as well pack it in and give up. Either we have that gift, or we don’t. But Allen shows that simply isn’t true. Recent research has shown that there is a predictable science behind achieving commercial success in any creative endeavour, from writing a popular novel to starting up a successful company to creating an effective marketing campaign.

One of Gannett’s Laws of creativity is the law of creative communities. He argues that creatives leaders like Paul McCartney, Steve Jobs, and  J.K. Rowling, didn’t create their great works in isolation, but were surrounded by a community of people. Gannett’s also argues that if you don’t have a community of supporting people around you then your chances for creating something is drastically reduced.

So, if you want to make math moments that matter for your students on a regular basis then you will need a community of supportive people!

Alex Overwijk is a high school math teacher in Ottawa Ontario Canada. What I admire so much about Al, is that after teaching math the “traditional way” for over 25 years he realized that he had been robbing his students of great thinking and made significant changes in his classroom routines with an emphasis on “Uncovering curriculum instead of covering curriculum”.

Al has written on his blog about Lesson study — a collaborative lesson design structure — that has led him to create many active great thinking lessons for his students.

Basically, lesson study in a nutshell is a group of educators, teachers, and administrators who will together plan a lesson for a teacher to deliver. They will all observe to witness how the students respond to the questioning and tasks included in the lesson, then they debrief to make changes. Then this process repeats. The group will plan, observe, and debrief for another teacher, and so on.

The group is planning lessons collaboratively, not in solitary isolation. The success/ or failure of the lesson is felt by the whole group and not just from the teacher delivery it.

When responding to teachers who say “I can’t afford to be out of my classroom that many times”…. Al says, “How can you not afford it? Your classroom will become a different place-a place you’re not familiar with. Your instructional practices will be challenged and will probably change as a result. Your belief in what students can do will change. You need to try this!”

Al and so many other teachers know that the success of great lessons and course plans can hinge on your access to a community.

What can you do? —- Find one or two teachers who also want to plan, talk ideas through, and collaborate on lessons or course designs. Please. Don’t do this alone. We need to avoid isolation. Sharing ideas, strategies and resources is how plans not only get created but how we stick to them.

Your next step to avoid Teacher Isolation → Join our closed Facebook group: Math Teaching & Learning K-12.  It’s closed so that you can feel comfortable asking math lesson related questions on Facebook without bothering your Aunt or your college friends with math related stuff. It’s a place just for us! It’s a place where if you’re feeling teacher isolation in your school come here and share your question or even just to vent. 

For example, a group member asked the following question….and other group members jumped in to help out.

Or here’s another example of a team effort

So, I’m hoping to see you in group! Remember, don’t do this alone! We can create better things together.