How Far Do You Go with Structure When Teaching?

Lesson plans are something familiar to both teachers and to some degree, those who have been taught at some stage in their lives. You know that there are certain notes that have to be hit, a curriculum that has to be followed, though how these things come together are ultimately at the discretion of the teacher. If you’re now in the position of teaching, this will all be very much known to you, but when it comes to the control that you exercise, how much do you lean into this idea of structure?

There’s not necessarily a right answer, this is all about teaching preference after all, but it can be helpful to know how much flexibility you have.

The Lesson Plan

This all comes back to the aforementioned lesson plan where you’ll give yourself a good idea beforehand of the kind of trajectory the day is going to follow. This can help you to keep things on track and can ensure that your teaching is following a general direction. While that’s all well and good in theory, in reality, you’re going to be dealing with more variables than that, especially when it comes to how your students respond to this and how long it takes them to actually learn what you’re teaching them. For example, if they’re not getting something as quickly as you’d expected, a lesson plan that you had only planned to take one day might stretch over to another, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but can be challenging when it comes to your planning for the curriculum at large.

So, how rigidly should you stick to a lesson plan? You’ll definitely want to have something in place, but that doesn’t mean you want to rely on it completely. After all, you might find that being too dependent on a lesson plan means that instances of spontaneous learning and engagement become something that you avoid rather than lean toward, and for some students, it’s these instances these could often prove to be the most engaging parts of the lesson. It’s about striking a balance, and it’s about finding lesson plans that best suit your style of teaching, such as those at Studentreasures Publishing. This might be a rhythm that takes some time to perfect, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that the best result might depend on the way that you interact with any given set of students.

The Activities

Of course, a lesson plan isn’t just about what you teach, it’s also about how this learning is then applied through various activities. Sometimes this might be something that your class engages in as a group, in a more forum-like setting, but it might also be something that they do themselves, or in smaller groups that require concentrated focus. There’s a difficulty that arises here due to the variable use of some of these activities. For example, a worksheet can be an easy way to simply occupy the attention of your students, and when combined with a lesson that doesn’t engage them appropriately, it might ultimately not be too useful in the grand scheme of things. However, when used properly, this opportunity to exercise what they’ve learned can lead to them potentially retaining this information more clearly than they otherwise would.

When it comes to the structure of your lessons, you might find that there are times when it takes a more spontaneous form. If your students are engaging more enthusiastically with a lesson direction than you you’d expected, you might not want to navigate it back to a format that threatens to be ineffective by comparison. In this case, you might want to make yourself open to activities that are also thought of relatively on the fly—these might be the kind that encourage more open discussion, or cooperative work, so long as you feel as though it’s going to lead to a more memorable experience overall. After all, if there are worksheets that you’d planned for the lesson, you could always use them to open the next lesson in order to check what has been retained and how successful your previous ventures have been. There are many different approaches that you could take, and a flexible mindset might make for more varied lessons on the whole.

The Benefits of More Structure

However, once again, it’s about striking a balance that leads to effective results. When considering why you might want to add more flexibility and spontaneity into your lesson plan, it’s important to not take this to mean that you should forsake structure entirely. It can absolutely be useful for keeping things on track, and it can help to prevent your students from falling behind. Knowing in advance which lessons will tackle which parts of the curriculum can help you to plan ahead and ensure that everything is taught in a timely manner. 

It’s also worth considering what else structure can ultimately mean for a lesson. While open discussion can be engaging and exciting, that excitement can sometimes spill over and ultimately be a distraction from the lesson itself. There’s no reason to stifle enthusiasm, but you’ll also want to ensure that the ultimate focus on learning remains strong, as otherwise you can risk the group falling out of your control and becoming less interested in what you have to teach. 

Knowing how to enforce this structure without it becoming oppressive is a difficult balance to strike, and something that will undoubtedly take some trial and error. It makes sense that some teachers would swing far in this direction fearing that things would spiral out of control, but that stifling atmosphere could risk problems of a different kind approaching, not just those that involve a lack of knowledge retention.

In this way, having the lesson plan as a foundation that you can consistently fall back on whenever you need to can mean that you’re encouraged to experiment with different lesson types, as when things don’t go to plan, you have a failsafe that can ideally help to restore some order to the lesson.

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