The value of going back to “Golden Oldies” in lesson planning
Welcome to our first blog post on lesson planning! These blog posts were inspired by conversations we had during the writing of a new methodology and resource book on lesson planning, ‘Taking aim: Zeroing in on a great language lesson!’. So, what inspired this first post? Well, we think we cannot introduce or consider new principles and approaches to planning without revisiting existing ones. We work with in-service, developing teachers and sometimes experience some resistance to looking back at methods and approaches in ELT. “This is old. It isn’t relevant to me and my learners nowadays. I wouldn’t use this. I don’t use this.” All frequent comments, as well as, “Oh yeah, I had completely forgotten about that.” So with this in mind, we would like to argue that there is value in going back to the Golden Oldies of ELT. Yes, this could be interpreted as a slightly disparaging name, but it can also be seen as a sign of respect and gratitude to what is already out there and may have been forgotten.
The more planning we do, the more prepared we will be for what comes up in the lesson is one way to approach planning our lessons. However, if we don’t stop to reflect we won’t necessarily develop in the direction we had in mind. Are we focusing on the right things? Why are we planning in this way? Sometimes looking back can help us realise where we are and what has brought us here. One of our first ventures into lesson planning was through Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener. As he says, “I sometimes wonder if the key planning skill is an ability to visualise before a class how things might look, feel and sound when they are done in class.” If we think of our recent experiences with team teaching for our other blog on pronunciation, much of what Jim says rings very true indeed. We now spend much of our time visualising lessons during the planning stage, and even suggest this to our Dip TESOL candidates as an excellent planning method. What does my board look like? What am I saying at this moment in the lesson? Where are my students and what are they saying? How do they feel? These are great questions to ask yourself as you plan a lesson. This example shows the clear value in Golden Oldies, and this is said with the utmost respect.
Our goal in this post (and in the first part of our book) is for teachers to get a bird’s eye view of their own planning and plot it in the history and current thinking of ELT methods, approaches and frameworks. If you are new to ELT it will help you understand planning approaches as new ideas. For the more experienced teachers among you, these might be old ideas revisited. Is it fair to say that for many teachers, after their initial training, they don’t really think about ELT methods and approaches? Well, we think that looking back like this can help you to see connections and patterns in these approaches so you can see how they respond to second language acquisition (SLA) theories and research. By understanding your practice better, you can make more informed decisions, consolidate your practice, feel more confident and create a basis for future learning.
So, what are these Golden Oldies? We would include PPP, TBLT, Test teach test, ARC, ESA – Okay, they are not that old, but in the world of ELT, we might consider them as the standard ways to structure or frame a lesson. They are each based on theories about how we learn a language and we will go into this a little more in the book. For now, you can look them up if you don’t already know what they refer to.
Now, if you have learned or remember what these methods and approaches are, we would like you to think about what part they play in your planning. As with all methods, we are or can be eclectic about what we take from them. For example, you might follow a PPP approach when you are teaching a key grammar point your learners need to work on or if that grammar point is assumed to be new to the learners. You might use TBLT if you want to engage learners in an authentic task which is relevant and motivating for them. This authentic task may also reflect an exam task they will have to do and you would like to evaluate what they can or can’t do. Maybe ARC and ESA serve as useful frameworks for measuring the quantity and quality of student talking time in a lesson – have you got the balance right between study, practice and use? You might also find that you have a different name for the R and the S in ARC and ESA and they are already a core part of your classroom practice.
Now that you have considered how much of a part these frameworks play in your lessons, ask yourself the following questions. How many of these frameworks are you already using? Why do you use them, and in what situations? Which parts of which frameworks can you see in your day-to-day planning? How much is this a conscious decision depending on what you are teaching? What part do the learners play in how you plan your lessons? Is there anything useful from the frameworks that you have forgotten? If you are new to ELT, which of these frameworks would be the most useful to your current teaching context and why? Think about a lesson you are going to teach this week, how are you going to structure the lesson?
These are all good questions to ask ourselves if we want to develop as teachers, and we would love to hear your answers in the comments here. We feel the value of going back to ‘Golden Oldies’ in lesson planning and evaluating them can help us understand more about what we do in the classroom and why we do it. It can also make us much more aware of how we teach and how our students learn. It may also serve as a kind of troubleshooter to help us evaluate our planning and give consideration to what goes on in any given lesson. And, you never know, it may well make us more receptive to new principles and approaches to lesson planning that can be added to the planning toolbox we already have.