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Same level, same coursebook… same planning???

January 11, 2011 21 comments

Professor Snooze is well versed in BTM* (Boring Teaching Methodology) and keeps all his lesson plans written in old and dusty notebooks. He has always done the same things in his lessons for 25 years. // Photo by dvortygirl // * For more on BTM, look for Luke Prodromou's article.

I do believe DoS and coordinators have the best of intentions when they assign groups of the same level to teachers. After all, if you’re teaching the same level twice, and if both classes are using the same coursebook, this will definitely mean a lot less work for you as a teacher when it comes to lesson planning, right? I mean, if your students from both classes are expected to leave the course having learnt the same things, why bother to plan different lessons, right? The same is true when you have the same level semester after semester, year after year – if you do a great job the first time and keep track of everything you’ve done, you can just relax during your lesson planning and any kind of preparation that lessons might need during the upcoming semesters. Right???

I said it in the very beginning, and I repeat it here – I do believe that teachers are given the groups of the same level with the best of intentions. However, I’ve seen my share of teachers who would take that as a sign that only one planning was necessary. It’s actually quite easy to understand what might be going on in the minds of such teachers. “I’m supposed to teach this lesson, and this is a wonderful activity, so I’ll simply keep using it. It has worked before.” The problem does not lie in the teacher’s attitude to keep a notebook with everything he or she has done and repeat it over the years. The problem is that this kind of teacher still hasn’t learnt that teachers are supposed to teach students, not lessons.

It goes without saying that, if you have to use a coursebook, knowing the coursebook from start to end helps a lot when it comes to planning. That doesn’t mean, though, that no more planning is necessary. It doesn’t mean your little notebook with all your notes and all the post-its and notes you’ve written in the book will help you to successfully teach the group of eager (?) learners. If you’re teaching the lesson, you’re seriously risking having some students in the classroom who already know what you’re saying and will end up finding the whole thing way too boring, and having another share of students who are still not quite ready to learn what you’re teaching them.

If teachers have the benefit of teaching a level or book twice, they should look at it from the right angle. It’s not about repeating procedures. It’s about getting in touch with those students who are there with you during the learning moment. Learning is dialogic, and it’s much easier to learn when the person who’s trying to teach us is actually willing to listen to us. How often have you lost your temper when you need to call the help desk for any kind of problem and the person on the other side just keeps repeating the same answers over and over again, clearly reading from a manual that he or she has been given and not bothering to truly listening to you so that YOUR problem can be fixed, not the problem that is described in the manual? If teachers insist on simply repeating what they had planned for a class of the same level / coursebook but different students, that’s exactly what’s going to happen – you’re reading your answers from a manual and never actually caring about what your students in the classroom have got to say. You just don’t listen. As if this weren’t bad enough, sometimes these teachers really can’t understand why this particular group doesn’t seem to grasp what he or she is saying when the previous group had no problems whatsoever.

It may come across as a fictitious story, but I have already seen that many times in my teaching career. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been advised to do so when I was in the very early days of being a teacher. Fortunately, or at least I like to think so, the very first time that happened to me, even though I was teaching the same level with the same coursebook, the two groups had students from such different age range that it was just impossible to do the same things with both classes. I also like to think that it was this particular experience that helped me understand it first hand that two groups are never the same. Teachers have to respond to the needs of their groups, and that is why having a whole course pre-planned for teachers is highly unlikely to succeed.

Next time you get the same level again, try ignoring your notes and lesson plans. You will obviously know what will come next, it’ll be easier for you to anticipate difficulties, but don’t simply assume the current group will have the same difficulties that the previous group had. Make sure you take advantage of already having taught the same level before to help students, not to hinder their learning. Practice makes perfect, but only when done appropriately. I think we can define stupidity as repeating the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. In this situation, you’re likely to repeat the same thing over the years only to see that you’ll never be able to be as successful as that very first time you devised your lesson bearing those students who were in class in mind. And if you fail to realise you don’t teach the lesson, but you teach people, you’ll never understand why you’re not being as successful as before.

On a final note, if simply repeating the lesson were bound to be successful, then computer would surely be able to replace teachers. I’m awfully sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. If not ever, not in a long while. Teaching involves a lot more than simply passing on information.

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* I’d like to thank @wbarboza for suggesting this topic. I’m still looking forward to his guest post, and, yes, I’m making it public because I know he’s been up to his ears with his studies and perhaps a little push might give him the boost to write it! If you still haven’t started following him, I recommend you do so. Many thanks for your support with the comments and feedback on the posts, Wallace!

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