The Best-laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Awry

Written By aperkins

On March 5, 2013

Read more

How do we make right a lesson that has gone wrong? This is the question teacher Sarah Brown Wessling addresses in her video When a Lesson Goes Wrong. As you view the video, keep these questions in mind:

1. How does Ms. Wessling know that her lesson isn’t working?
2. Notice the changes Ms. Wessling makes for the second lesson. How does she modify both the content and structure of her lesson?

When a Lesson Goes WrongLost and Confused Signpost

One of the first things I appreciate about her is the assertion that we, as teachers, can often rely on our students to tell us what we need to know. In the video, her students make her aware by their off-task behaviors (including off-task conversations and ignoring of the task) that the assignment was too complex. In primarily paying attention to the standards, she has ignored the scaffolding that would need to be in place to successfully complete the complex task.
What now? After attempting to shush her students and extinguish anxieties, she quickly realizes she has “misfired” with the lesson and she has a choice in how to react. As educators, we’ve most likely all had moments when we made the choice to a) keep trucking along in the lesson because we had to get through the content b) become frustrated and blame laziness and poor attitudes for unwillingness to engage in the work or c) quickly adjust the lesson in a responsive way.

We watch as Ms. Wessling decides how to respond to the evidence of learning and process needs and as she ultimately decides to adjust the lesson. A critical piece here is that she is able to make the adjustments to the instructional approach because she has a toolbox of strategies and classroom resources she can quickly pull from in those moments. She switches to a traveling concept map as the literacy strategy to get students actively engaged with the packet of text. She has readily available chart paper and markers to pull out and place on desks without much disruption to the flow of the period. She has internalized her standards and makes the decision to continue holding students to those heightened expectations but modifies how they apply the skills of synthesis and summarization. What do your teacher behaviors look like in those moments? What classroom resources can you utilize in those moments?

reflectionLastly, Ms. Wessling seeks out a peer and engages in collaborative discourse about the experience. Her approach is informal and involves jetting down the hall between classes to seek out a fellow ELA teacher. She could have just as easily picked up her phone or crafted an email to that same teacher or followed a refining protocol during a professional learning community meeting. The point is she sought someone who was willing and able to support her in her practice. Who do you seek out when a lesson goes wrong? What does that course of action look like?

Let’s give ourselves permission in the moment, or for the next delivery, to revise a lesson. When we are acutely aware of student behaviors and our own behaviors, we are able to see the need for adjustments early and then adjust quickly.