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Lesson Planning for the University Classroom

We’ve all heard about faculty stereotypes:  the absent-minded professor, the one who so entrenched in her own research that she doesn’t have any desire to focus on students; the disheveled, unkempt, and disorganized professor who is totally brilliant (if you can keep up with his nonlinear way of “espousing knowledge”); or the faculty member who reads lecture material from 30-year old faded and dog-eared notes.  We see these stereotypes in the modern media and we laugh.  “I have a colleague just like that!”, “I had a professor like that once!”, or “I’m not one of those!”  Interestingly, it’s never us; it’s always someone else who fits these stereotypes.

Unfortunately, there is some truth to these three stereotypical images.  Some professors can focus on their own research to the exclusion of teaching, they can be disorganized but brilliant, and they sometimes lecture from dated material.  What these stereotypes fail to do—or do inadequately—is focus on student learning.  Teaching in a university classroom requires preparation and a redirection of focus.  The teaching is not about us; it’s about the students.

One way to focus teaching on student learning is to create and work from lesson plans, plans that keep student learning at the forefront of class sessions.  Some of us don’t know need to work from lesson plans as we know our material and we’ve taught it for a long time, but many of us do, or we need to.  (In the attempt at full disclosure, I am a teacher who is not very structured.  I like spontaneity and free-flowing conversations in a classroom, as I can usually direct these to the topics we are studying.  However, students like knowing what to expect each day, and I’m striving to include more structure in my classes.)  Lesson plans can help us keep student learning objectives at the forefront of our teaching.  They can also—if they are flexible enough—help us avoid the faculty stereotypes noted above.

In teacher education, “The Madeline Hunter” style of lesson planning is almost sacrosanct, as Schools or Colleges of Education use this style as THE preferred form of lesson planning.  In this style, a teacher would break down each lesson according to the following format (or a version of this format).  Each lesson might be one class session or maybe one unit depending upon the age and ability of the student.

  1. Objectives
  2. Set [hook]
  3. Standards/expectations
  4. Teaching (Input, Modeling/demo, Direction giving, Checking for understanding)
  5. Guided Practice
  6. Closure
  7. Independent Practice

The teacher works methodically to achieve each objective, set, standard, guided practice, independent practice, etc.  In this model, there is not much room for spontaneity, or “winging it.”  The Madeline Hunter style of lesson planning has much strength.  It forces teachers to consider course objectives and standards.  It gives teachers, almost systematically, ways to engage students in course material.  It helps build in assessment and evaluation into each lesson.  For some educators, this formulaic style works just fine, particularly if students are learning course content.

The style of lesson planning mentioned here (the Madeline Hunter style plus many others) are perfectly fine ways to plan lessons.  Nevertheless, not everyone needs a seven-step formula, particularly when one has been teaching for some time.  Meagan Rodgers, at Intent/ Effect (and @meaganrodgers on Twitter), devised a lesson plan a few years ago that takes some of Madeline Hunter’s structure, and applies it to a more modern classroom.

In this style, Rodgers lists the date of a particular class, the goals for that class, the assignment for the course, and any announcements she might make during their time together.  In the description of activities, Rodgers uses sticky notes to order that day’s activities (she also includes time estimates for each activity).  The beauty of sticky notes is that she can shift the order of activities or even move an activity to another day if students have engaged more fully than she expected in their work for that day.

This method gives her (and her students) opportunity to connect with course material and the flexibility to tackle that material in a number of directions.  To be clear, the formal lesson planning style noted above could also include ways to veer off the scheduled topic, but not as easily as Rodgers’ style.

These two different lesson-planning methods each keep course content and student learning at the forefront of a classroom session.

If we are teaching in this manner, the course becomes less about us (and the stereotypes noted at the beginning of this post) and more about student engagement.  Can students engage in course material without every second of class time planned and orchestrated?  Of course they can.  However, if we want to make sure they do, we plan for it.

How do you plan for your classes?  Is there a style you use or a particular method?  Please leave your suggestions in comments below.

(Image of Lesson Planning Sheet by intenteffect [Meagan Rodgers] and used under the Creative Commons license.)

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