Tuesday, October 14, 2014

English Language Teaching (ELT) Lesson Planning and Assessment (#eltlive, #keltchat)

I enjoyed today's #eltlive discussion on lesson planning.  The main takeaway for me was how to associate lesson planning around the idea of assessment.  One of the questions I posed was how can lesson plans be assessed, which shifted the conversation to the importance of assessing students during the implementation of the lesson plan (i.e., formative assessment).

Assessing students

Comments were made about how we receive feedback from students and how we typically reflect in action, to borrow from Schon (1983). The conversation included the dichotomy of covering content by strictly sticking to the lesson plan and being flexible with the lesson plan based on how students are performing in class.  And although this relates to assessing students indirectly, it doesn't exactly reveal how we plan lessons around the assessment of students.

I tend to think of lesson planning as being a backward design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005; Popham 2008).  We plan our lessons around assessments first (presumably based on course objectives), then decide on the most appropriate learning sequence.  By deciding on assessments first, we prepare a "road map" that frames the journey students are to take in order to achieve particular outcomes (whether these outcomes are part of the curriculum or pre-determined by the language teacher and students).  This approach to assessment is the opposite of planning a lesson sequence first, then thinking later how to assess students on what was covered in prior classes.  In a backward design, the point is to "uncover" content and not merely cover it.

Assessing the lesson plan

Throughout today's discussion, I also kept thinking about how others might assess their lesson plans (I ask because I don't do nearly enough of this).  Assessing lesson plans can take on three forms: 1) assessing the lesson plan before implementing it, 2) assessing the lesson plan while implementing it, and 3) assessing the lesson plan after implementing it.  Assessing before the class might involve sharing and collaborating around a lesson plan with colleagues, students, admins., or any other education stakeholder around course objectives, materials or technologies used, among others.  Assessing during the class is not necessarily the same as assessing students as mentioned earlier, but rather would include reflection in action in terms of students' actual behavior and how one originally planned students would behave before class.  And finally, assessing after the class would not only be an individual reflection (reflection on action) on students' actual behavior vs. planned behavior, but could also be a shared experience with others (e.g., via social media).  All three ways to assess a lesson plan include distinguishing between intentional and incidental student behaviors that are either favorable or unfavorable.   

One idea I heard repeatedly was that many of us know when students are engaged, on task, etc. which we then can assume to mean that the lesson plan went well...and this quite often might be the case.  But I have oftentimes been surprised to finish a lesson, think that all went well, only to find out (after asking students) that it did not go quite as well as I had originally hoped.  It's not a stretch to acknowledge that misinterpretations can exist when it comes to the signals students provide in class and assumptions we place around those signals.

I always appreciate those who take part in these open, online discussions (like #eltlive), whether they are HOAs, Twitter feeds,  or through some other means because it gives me perspective and awareness that teaching in isolation does not have to be the norm and that professional learning opportunities continue to be at our fingertips.