Planning for the Unexpected!

Planning for the Unexpected!

 
Dealing with the Unexpected! – Sipping Coconuts

 

In our CTEFL Training Courses at Via Lingua, trainees learn with, practice, and apply our effective communicative method of language instruction. When learning a new method for teaching, many hours are spent on planning lessons, questions, materials, and techniques. Also as a new teacher, you will likely spend a lot of time planning as you get to know your students, the materials you have available, and yourself as a teacher. But there is a question that often comes up: how much do I really have to plan? Can’t I just improvise?

 

Maybe you're a person who lives by “the plan.” Or maybe you are the type who lives for improvising and “feeling out the room.” It is true that each teacher has their own personality when it comes to teaching, but effective teachers will find the most success somewhere in between planning and improvising.

 

As our trainees experience at Via Lingua, when learning something new, we need all the support we can get. As you start off on your teaching career, it is very important to make a habit of planning and preparing your lessons. As a professional, it is your responsibility to deliver high quality, effective lessons that have a purpose and a direction. This is not something that we can invent on the spot or just do randomly. But even if you have prepared the most well thought out and detailed lesson possible, this still doesn’t guarantee teaching and learning success. After all, we are working with humans!

 

So, back to the big question: When to improvise? And when to stick to the plan? Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

 

Consider the parts of your lesson - Each stage has a different purpose. During your lesson time, there are different things that we plan for and hope to accomplish. You may open by catching up with your students, warming up, reviewing homework, then eliciting a new topic, practicing with it, and giving students time to produce independently or collaboratively. Certain stages lend themselves to flexibility, discussion, and lots of student input. Others are more focused. If an opportunity presents itself to improvise or go on a tangent, consider where you are at that moment, and what the purpose is: would it be okay to steer off trail for a moment? Or would it completely derail the task at hand?

 

Be attentive to teachable moments - You as the teacher may have planned to address one topic in today’s lesson, but student contributions may take the group in a different direction. What if a student brings a great story that everyone wants to talk about? What if something important is happening in the world that needs to be discussed? What if someone poses a great question during practice that is, in reality, a bit off track? Keep your eyes and ears open for things that have meaning for students, and acknowledge and embrace those teachable moments in your classroom. Valuing student input is empowering. And, we aren’t perfect as teachers, either! Oftentimes students bring up useful things that we didn’t think of.

 

Be flexible to the unexpected - As mentioned before, we work with humans! People are unpredictable. With even the best laid plans, you don’t know 100% exactly how your students will respond to what you present. Consider in advance various options to extend an activity, to slow a topic down, or to make an exercise more engaging. Be ready to adapt to various responses and needs. This becomes easier with time: the better you know your students, the better you can predict how they will react and what they will need from you.

 

Be open, but critical, of when to let go - In the end, you are the leader who must make the judgement call in your classroom. We have teachable moments to be aware of, unexpected responses to adjust to, but also a lesson and a purpose to accomplish. How can we do it all? Being present with your students and their needs is key. Yes, we do have an obligation to help our students reach a certain objective, but we don’t have to sacrifice what is happening and relevant in the moment to stay on a rigid path. Moment by moment, and step by step, always be armed with an intentional plan to help your students progress, but be ready for the human moments as well.

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