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Councourse 2

Strand 2: Why not go with the flow instead of planning?

flow

You have arrived here because you partially or fully agreed with:

I don’t plan much – I just go with the flow

There are many occasions in language teaching when going with the flow is a principled decision and it has many advantages so there is no intention here to be obsessive about the need to plan.  In fact, there is an approach to teaching, called Dogme, which encourages teachers to be much more relaxed about planning, use materials sparingly if at all and avoid the use of technology where possible.  The central idea is to use the language that emerges from or that is clearly needed by the learners as the core of any teaching.

Some have assumed that this also means teachers can't or shouldn't plan but that is arguably not true.  You still have to have some idea where you are going.  It is the case that only the general outlines of a lesson can be planned because learning is seen to happen in conversation and the focus is on what emerges naturally from the learners rather than imposed upon them.
For more on Dogme, and some references to research, go to the brief guide on this site.


planning

Why plan at all?

There are some good reasons why planning lessons (not all of them, not all the time) is A Good Thing.
Come up with three good reasons to have plans for a lessons and then click for a list of 4.


raising

Raising your awareness of planning

In what follows, you need to have in mind a lesson you have recently taught and which you think is fairly representative of the sort of teacher you are.  Before you start, write down the main phases of the lesson, the topic and any language or skills focus.
Ready?  OK.  Now try to answer the questions on the left in this table and then click on the eye open to reveal some comments.

Can you define exactly what the main aims of the lesson were in terms of language systems and/or skills? eye open
If you have only a vague idea or can't do this at all, you need to ask yourself some searching questions about why you are in the classroom at all.
Learners expect and some demand that their teachers are there for more than a pleasant chat and a chance to use the language they already know.  Most want to progress.
What could the learners do at the end of the lesson that they couldn't do at the beginning? eye open
If your answer is either vague or pretty flimsy in terms of learner progress, then you need to plan more and demand more of both you and your learners.
Do you think your learners could have written down what they learned in this lesson?
Do you think they could have written down what your aims were?
eye open
Having a plan (even if you just have aims and some materials) means that you can tell people at the beginning what they are going to learn and be able to ask them at the end if they did learn what you hoped.  If you don't have a plan, you can't demonstrate to the learners that they have progressed.  That's pretty demotivating and you need to remember that positive attitudes and high motivation have been shown to be important factors aiding language learning.
Did you choose any materials on the basis that they are interesting and enjoyable to use or were you concerned with what they actually help you teach? eye open
There's no doubt that good materials which are appropriate to the needs, interests and mix of learning styles in the group aid motivation but if all they do is entertain then people will quickly become disenchanted with the material, their course and their teacher.  Be an educator not an edutainer.
At which points in the lesson did you have an activity or procedure whose aim was to check and show what had been learnt? eye open
One of the benefits of planning is that it allows you to think in advance of ways to check that what you teach has been learned.  If you don't do this:
a) the learners won't see any progress
b) you won't know where to go in subsequent lessons
c) you won't be able to respond in this lesson to needs as they emerge
What items on the overall syllabus for this group of learners did the lesson target? eye open
If you are now thinking "What syllabus?", then there's a clear problem.  Even if all your lessons go with the flow, the flow needs to go somewhere.
Are you of the view that careful planning is probably a good thing but you are too busy and stretched to do much of it? eye open
Yes, planning does take some time but the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more satisfying you and your learners find your teaching.
It also allows you to repeat things (getting them right the second time) rather than re-inventing the wheel for each lesson.
Are you of the view that detailed planning focuses too much on the teacher and that going with the flow is more responsive to students' needs? eye open
Yes, being responsive to your learners is, of course, a good thing but that doesn't negate the need for planning.
In fact, if you plan carefully, you can ensure that your students' needs are being taken into account and you can plan in real student-centred work in all your lessons.
Not planning sometimes means that you respond by inserting lots of teacher-led mini-presentations into your teaching.  That is responding but it is you who is doing the responding, not your learners responding to the materials, language and skills work you do.

If working through this little exercise has alerted you to the need to plan more and plan more effectively, try the following:

Action 1

Work through the guides to planning on this site.  There's an essential one here and one designed for people taking in-service courses here.
Then apply what you have learned to two of tomorrow's lessons only.  Don't try to plan everything you do.  Work up to that slowly or you'll get stressed and tired.

Action 2

Teach a lesson as you normally do (i.e., without planning much).
Then take 10 minutes to sit and write the plan in retrospect:

  1. Write out the lesson aims in terms of language structure and form and language skills.
  2. Show what you and the students did in each stage of the lesson.
  3. Against each stage, write what the aims were for the stage.

Now see if the procedures you used matched the aims you had:

  1. Cut any procedures which didn't contribute to the aims and insert something that would.
  2. Insert a stage around the middle designed to check what's been learned so far.
  3. Insert a stage at the end where you can explicitly review what's been learned.

Now re-teach the lesson from the new plan and see how you and the learners feel.

Gauging progress

There's a separate guide in this section of the site to gauging and measuring progress in your development.  Go there for more ideas.
In terms of planning more and planning more effectively, the best judges are you and your learners, so focus on ways of getting that sort of information.  Keep a diary with a few notes for yourself on how planning is developing.  Take time every week or so (or every few lessons) to ask your learners if they have a sense of direction in their course and know where they are going and what progress they are making.