Lesson planning

Gigi, a former student, and a dedicated teacher, shares the following sentiment on Facebook:

備課是可以無止境的, 每一個 task 可以拆很多小步, 而每一小步又可以包含各種的元素, 而且要預計學生可能遇到的問題及產生的反應, 要留白執生時, 又要確保能達到目的. 很有挑戰性, 但實在不夠時間…

Coincidentally, I started the series of sessions on lesson planning three days ago with teachers on the part-time PGDE program, and I said something quite similar:

“Lesson planning is a very important part, as well as a highly professional part, of a teacher’s job. When you plan and your design a lesson, you apply your professional knowledge which, in the case of TESOL, comprises at least subject knowledge (knowledge of language, and of the English language), and methodology knowledge (how to teach a second language). It involves making a lot of professional judgment. You also get to apply your experience, and/or creativity. It is the part of the job that makes you feel like a professional. It is lesson planning that distinguishes a professional trained teacher and one who is untrained. This is even more the case in TESOL, where there is no ‘standard’ procedure for conducting a lesson. No two teachers will teach the same content in exactly the same way. The same teacher can have different designs for the same lesson content for different classes, and in different years. Conscientious lesson planning, therefore, can help teachers keep up their zest for teaching for years.”

But I also said to the teachers:

“Unfortunately, lesson planning is a terribly undervalued teacher activity in the schools of Hong Kong. Most teachers have an incredibly heavy teaching load. Their daily schedules are packed with hundreds of routine, or urgent, duties. As a result, lesson planning is often pushed to the bottom of a teacher’s daily to-do list. Teachers dash from lesson to lesson. Their primary concern becomes getting as many things done as possible, rather than teaching well. After a few years, they get burned out. They don’t feel like professionals any more. Some begin to live each day by simply going through the motions.

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After the class, I continued to think about the issue (and now even more as triggered by Gigi’s post on Facebook). I am suspecting that the situation is even worse in primary schools. For one thing, primary teachers have even more packed teaching timetables. Then, there, I suspect, lies a more deep-rooted perception problem: Primary teaching is easy (because of the easier subject content), and hence does not require much planning. This is unlike, say, teaching A-level economics.

Then, there are people (in education!) who think that when you have enough experience, you don’t need to bother about lesson planning any more. (Of course, their concept of lesson planning is that it is only about familiarizing yourself with the subject content of a lesson.)

If this is the mentality of a school’s senior administrators, you can imagine that  they would rather that teachers spend more time giving out more homework, marking more assignments, running more activities, and training students to take part in more inter-school competitions. They won’t bother whether teachers have the time to plan and design interesting and effective lessons or not.

To be fair, there have emerged more and more principals in recent years who uphold good teaching, and who translate this emphasis into their school policies. But we need a lot more principals, administrators, and educators who realize and accept that ultimately teachers and students will benefit from provisions for teachers to do adequate lesson planning. Teachers will go about their teaching with more zest. Students will learn more effectively in school.

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