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Teachable Moments: Not in the Lesson Plan

Updated on August 11, 2013

Most often the best learning moments are not planned.

I LOVE lesson planning. I don't know why, but it's fun for me. However, the longer I teach the more I realize whatever I'm planning has only about a 50% chance of being used. (Well that's how it feels anyway) The best teaching cannot be scripted or predicted, believe me I've tried!

Pintrest pin that is very appropriate for this post.
Pintrest pin that is very appropriate for this post. | Source

Planning every minute

Since my first lesson planning and teaching experiences as an education student in 2004, I've learned a lot. I realize how to lesson plan more effectively. I still plan. I still research with as much time as I have available to do so. I still gather as many manipulatives, worksheets, and ideas as I can find that might apply to my subject/topic. But I don't plan out a minute by minute class anymore. Timing is one of the hardest things to learn and control when teaching.

Everything depends on the students response, so how can we know how they'll do until they do something? Just because I think my son knows his math facts well, doesn't mean he'll get all of his problems correct for that day. Just because he can read fluently in some books and sound out words, doesn't mean he will have the patience to stick with the selection I've provided him for the day. Just because I'm interested in a topic I think he needs to learn, doesn't mean he is.

Valuing time = Respecting each learner

I do believe making use of every minute of teaching in a classroom at school is crucial. A teacher who takes time to plan communicates respect for their students by not wasting their valuable learning time. From the moment students enter a classroom to the time they leave, every minute should be utilized, and a good teacher knows how to do that. These are the classes where management is hardly an issue even when there is a substitute teacher (like me!). A teacher who knows how to plan, how long assignments will probably take their students to do, and over plans so that there is always something to learn, is a very good teacher. And I'm sorry to say, I feel are not as common as you may think. Think back on your time in school. I'm guessing you know what I'm talking about. Which classes wasted your time and what classes were worth the time?

Homeschooling I find is different. The relaxed atmosphere of not having a rigid schedule to learn each lesson in is very appealing and effective. Students are not pressured to finish an assignment or quiz in 15 minutes. If something is hard we can spend extra time on it. If my son is not focused, easily distracted, excited about something else, or sick, it's ok. It's not going to mess up our learning timeline like it would for a student sitting in a class of 30. I can read his responses immediately and adapt as I need to.

When I'm teaching in a large class there are so many cues I miss because there is so much going on that demands my attention. Since I really try to value each individual I'm given the responsibility to teach, I almost always feel inadequate because I know there is always going to be some I wont have time to get to. That's hard for me. But it just makes me work harder to use every minute of class time I have.

All of this makes me appreciate my experience homeschooling my children. They will never be overlooked or ignored. They won't fall too far behind. They won't be held back. They'll be challenged and have appropriate content to learn for where their learning ability is. I feel good about giving them that opportunity and learning experience.

There are so many factors to learning experiences impacting the learner, it's almost impossible to really plan or predict what is going to happen. That's why we as teachers need to always be ready to abandon the lesson plan and follow the learning opportunities. Besides, teachers will agree modifications to lesson plans are always necessary to adapt the the learner's needs.

My son inside a log loader.
My son inside a log loader.

Our recent example of leaving lesson plans behind

I had an invitation to take my kids out with a family member for the day to visit a logging site on his property. I was hesitant because I had a plan. We had lots to do that day to stay on schedule. I thought to myself, "if I keep missing days like this just to go out and have fun how will we ever get through what he needs to learn this year!"

You probably know where is this is going, but the experience and memories of that day taught him more than I could in many days and hours of sitting at home with books and worksheets. He experienced a field trip many school kids will never get to go on.

My son watched loggers communicate for safety and efficiency. He saw pulleys and machines in action, he saw trees being dragged from one steep slope to the next, He saw action, met people, and sat in real machines. He hiked around, climbed on log piles, and on machines. We got fresh air and socialized with people who were knowledgeable about their profession. Learning was happening so fast every second and I just followed him along and watched.

And our day didn't end there! We were offered an extension on our outing by going to Wildlife Safari (an outdoor, drive through, zoo). He rode a camel, held a lizard, pet a turtle. Saw bears stand and "fight" on their hind legs and wrestle with chunks of meat in the water. And so much more. Just an amazing opportunity I would have missed if I said, "no I' have so much I've got planned for today". Seems unthinkable that I even had that thought now knowing how the day turned out.

Lesson plans can always be changed. Seizing opportunities and leaving lesson plans behind comes in many forms, but always be ready to jump on it. The learning that wasn't planned that you see take place will more often than not astound you.

Don't worry the car was stopped when he was hanging out of the window like that.
Don't worry the car was stopped when he was hanging out of the window like that.
I think the turtle wanted to eat his fingers, but we told my son he really wanted to be friends and play.
I think the turtle wanted to eat his fingers, but we told my son he really wanted to be friends and play.

This wouldn't have been possible if he had to be in preschool that day stuck in a classroom. Homeschooling gives us so much freedom to adapt and seize memorable learning opportunities that come up all of the time. More and more I'm grateful we've chosen to homeschool our kids.

Teachers and Weathermen

Trying to motivate someone else is hard to do every day. I wonder if it's similar to predicting the weather. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon. It rains here, a lot. Still we watch the weather on the news but I've always taken it lightly. I believe some of our weathermen love to study and analyze all the data they can to help them predict what is coming our way. I always wondered why they don't just predict rain everyday around here, they'd still have a pretty good average for the weather here. Even in Eugene, it's hard to predict the weather correctly everyday let alone on the hour (like some try to do).

Teaching feels like that to me. I can learn about a student, watch them everyday respond to my lesson plans, talk to them, learn their interests, and still create a lesson plan that I thought would appeal to them that doesn't motivate them much. Sometimes it works, and it's a beautiful feeling to be successful in helping someone be excited to learn. But sometimes it doesn't.

That's just part of perfecting the craft. That's what teaching is a profession, a craft, an art. It doesn't matter if you're planning a lesson for 30 kids, 10 kids, or just one. Some lesson planning pays off and some feels like a huge failure. I'm going to keep erring on the side of planning and trying.

The beauty of putting time into planning and researching for a lesson is that even if it isn't used in one lesson it may come in handy in another. It doesn't hurt to learn more. You never know when something will be useful or help you connect with someone else. That's why I love learning and will always strive to be a lifelong learner.

Great basketball coach to learn from!
Great basketball coach to learn from! | Source

As a teacher, I feel I've failed if I waste valuable learning time for my students. One of my favorite quotable people is John Wooden. He has a saying about planning. "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail." So prepare. Plan. Research. Try. Because if you don't the only thing you can count on is you will waste time. The effort of planning is worth the outcome.


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