Why Teacher-Generated “Lesson Plans” are Dangerous


Many times, when a parent attends a teacher interview, the classroom teacher will describe for the parents what s/he intends to teach in a particular subject during this semester. These instructional strategies are often tied into themes that might last for a period of time or that might be related to a specific event. Themes about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Halloween are common. Others like pioneers, whales, and famous individuals or events also make the list. Sometimes the themes are carried across different parts of the curriculum. They may be done as art projects, used in music class, be the subject of history, environmental studies and so on. The whole process gives the curriculum a sense of unity, a cohesive structure that teaches different skills in different subjects around a common topic.

No Training In Instructional Design

All of this might seem reasonable enough until one investigates how these strategies were designed and developed. Usually they are designed and delivered by one or more classroom teachers. Interestingly, if we query these classroom teachers about their specific training in instructional design, they admit that they have never had any. It was not part of their teacher training, nor has it been a consistent part of their ongoing professional development. They are making it up as they go, doing the best that they can with the time and tools at their disposal. It’s not fair to blame these professionals for any failure that results from this oversight in their preparation as teachers. It is fair to blame those responsible for training them.

Untested Curriculum: A Lack of Standards

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, how do we know that these homemade attempts at curriculum development actually teach? Did anyone bother to test these “lesson plans” on a group of students, determine their effectiveness, edit and revise the presentation based on the flaws in the design? How do we know that it teaches all of the students the same concepts and operations and that some students don’t go away with a completely different interpretation of the critical information that was presented? We don’t. Any information that is gathered is generally not data–based, but relies simply on anecdotal reports, often from the person(s) who created the lesson plans in the first place – not exactly the least biased source.

In the real world, when a product is being designed and produced for consumption, there are systems to direct the design and development. These systems usually have milestones and deliverables that have been tested and shown to meet some standard.

Why don’t we do this with classroom offerings, instead of expecting each teacher to design and produce their own applications? At a district level, there are often groups who are responsible to develop curriculum to meet district and state or provincial standards. Usually these committees meet, study the requirements and end up with a laundry list of objectives. Some committees develop related tasks that flow from the list, maybe a few suggestions for activities, but no final plan ready for the teacher to take into the classroom and use. And certainly no lesson plan is provided that has been tested on some students in any empirical fashion, been revised where necessary and is demonstrated to teach the objective as listed.

Essentially, It’s a Crapshoot

So essentially, it’s a crapshoot. Maybe it will work, maybe not. Maybe it will teach most of the students, maybe not. We just may never know… unless that is we tackle the problem from a different perspective.

The reason that this is such a non-issue in educational circles is that fortunately for the teachers, our kids are mostly smart. About 70% of them can learn from even poorly designed presentations. So the school sees itself as successful and it can explain away the 30% of poor learners in a variety of ways- learning disabilities, broken families, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. They accept a 30% failure rate as the cost of doing business. What they do not do is to take ownership for the teaching and to examine the instruction to determine if in fact it teaches the children well.

I will delve into that perspective in the next blog.


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