I think we talk too much about lessons. A lesson is usually the wrong unit of time to think about.
@prcollins recently tweeted the following:
I’m doing an ‘inspirational lessons’ training session to our school’s ITTs and NQTs tomorrow (no pressure), what would you include…?
— Paul Raymond Collins (@mrprcollins) January 25, 2015
— Bodil Isaksen (@BodilUK) January 25, 2015
I can’t imagine this going down too well in the training session. It’s not something that can be done in one lesson, after all.
This is true of so many things in teaching.
Thinking about an individual lesson leads us down the wrong path to the wrong solutions.
Inspiration is not something cultivated by a one-off lesson. It is the product of day-in day-out ethos and teaching. You catch them one by one.
Differentiation, too, is something that’s been widely discussed on Twitter over the past few days. Again, it’s best thought of over a longer period of time. Thinking of differentiation as being done within a lesson is a constraining, artificial timeframe. When I think of my most powerful differentiation, I think of catching children at lunch who got their exit ticket wrong to go through it again. I think of whipping out a fantastically difficult problem for the kid who is flying through the work to chew on over multiple lessons and at home. I think of translating the unit’s knowledge grid well ahead of time for our recent Polish arrival. These aren’t things that would go on a lesson plan, but they work.
Our planning is weakened by lesson-based thinking. It makes it too easy to forget about cohesion and natural progression over time.
Thinking about lessons as the unit means one has a tendency to give up too easily. “Surely we can’t spend another lesson on that topic – we’ve got so much we need to cover,” the teacher ruminates guiltily. Lesson objectives need to be covered in a lesson or you’ve failed. You need to show progress in a lesson or you’re inadequate. A familiar narrative. It’s all a nonsense.
If one is thinking about lessons as the unit of learning, teaching children to fluency can seem an insurmountable task. Getting children who add on their fingers to know all their number bonds to automaticity can feel impossible. It’s not: it just requires practice little and often, and heaps of patience. But no-one ever learned it in a single lesson.
The real toxic impact is on retention. Zig Engelmann said “nothing is ever learned in one lesson”. A lesson-by-lesson approach, ticking off an objective at a time, considering it “done” runs counter to our entire understanding of the brain. Interleaving and spacing may not improve performance, but they sure as hell improve learning.
I recently read a quotation I loved: “we overestimate what we can achieve in a day; we underestimate what we can achieve in a year”. I reckon a similar thing applies in teaching. We drastically overestimate what we can achieve in a lesson. But perhaps we underestimate what we can achieve in a term; in a year; in seven years.
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