You spent hours planning the perfect lesson. I mean this lesson has it all. It centers on a rich and engaging task. It’s rigorous yet accessible. It requires collaborative problem solving and also provides opportunities for students to reflect on their own thinking. You just know the students are going to love it!
You arrive to school early because you are so excited to give the lesson a try. The students come in, you launch the lesson, and then it all goes wrong. Maybe it goes wrong because the students aren’t making connections to the prior knowledge required to solve the task. Maybe your directions were unclear. Maybe it’s a bit too complicated in terms of language or content. Maybe the students have a pep rally next period and they can’t focus or they just interrupted class to announce the homecoming course. Whatever the reason, this lesson is going south fast.
You think about all of the time and effort you’ve put into creating the lesson. You play the video of how you imagined the lesson going over and over in your mind. You lament what could have been. You can’t bear to think of abandoning your beautiful lesson.
At this point you need to stop, collaborate, and listen! (sorry for the Vanilla Ice reference)
Remember the reason you poured your heart and soul into this lesson was to support student learning. If the students aren’t working productively toward the lesson goals you need to change course. What does this mean? Well, you have to stop the lesson and check in with the class (collaborate). Ask your students what is going on and listen to what they have to say. It is quite likely they will tell you what they need or at least what is going on. If the lesson is too complicated or the students are unproductively struggling, have a brief discussion to allow students to discuss aspects that are unclear, approaches they’ve tried (that worked or not), ideas they have for what strategies to try next, etc. This will provide students with ideas for how to keep moving forward. The goal is to keep students engaged with the mathematics, and unfortunately for your lesson, that might mean abandoning some aspects or creating a revised vision for the lesson moving forward. You may also have to help them to connect to some other ideas or ask some questions to get them working again. If they are just too excited about non-mathy happenings (e.g., pep rallies, homecoming courts) then set a timer, give them a couple of minutes to get it out of their systems and then move on. Sometimes you just need to let them be kids for a bit before they can concentrate on mathematics.
So to summarize, we have to be responsive to our students, not our lesson plans. If something isn’t working, you need to stop, and then collaborate with and listen to students so that you can change course. Remember your commitment is to your students and their learning. We must evaluate the impact of our lessons with students; you can’t say whether a lesson is great or not absent students. Also, there’s no such thing as the perfect lesson-you can always make a lesson at least a little bit better-that’s what makes teaching both challenging and interesting! I’d love to hear any of your experiences changing up lessons in response to students. 🙂