Sunday, September 5, 2010

Prescription vs Construction

The teacher who plans without student input will be no more successful than a bride who plans her entire life without having a groom.

So let's be honest, planning is guessing.

Now there's nothing wrong with guessing, but let's make sure that we don't make prophets of ourselves. Year plans, lesson plans, curriculums and standards typically ignore the very clients they have been made for. This is why for the longest time these tools have been labelled guides. But is it just me or have they become rules?

When and why did this happen?

The answer is elusive, but I'm convinced it has something to do with mistrust and a gross misunderstanding for real learning.

Mistrust drives manipulation. It you don't trust teachers as guides, then it's easy to justify the need for rules. Prescriptive planning tends to turn learning into linear fabrications when real learning is non-linear and constructed.

Plans need to remain as vague as possible with the understanding that they should never play more of a role prescribing the learning than the kids constructing it.


  1. I am always amazed how little we teachers involve students in the planning of their own learning. I agree that a decent unit plan should be not much more than an outline that can then be shared with students. Let them help fill in the details and guide the learning.

    Another great post.

  2. Usually I find your observations worth consideration. But this time you're way off the mark in so many ways I can hardly count.

  3. Ever noticed how the harshest criticism on a blog post tends to come from a person who doesn't have the courage to state his or her name. Sad, really.

    I plan. I do unit and lesson plans. However, I modify these plans significantly during our weekly student planning time. For example, the students planned out the entire American Revolution newspaper project. They're planning our play about immigration.

  4. @anonymous: I truly welcome people who disagree with me to read and post here. I'm always looking to engage in these kinds of conversations.

    Could you share some of the details of your perspective on this issue?


  5. Hi Joe, at Uni we're currently undertaking a "Planning and Assessment" unit, and one of the prescribed 'readings' was 'the fundamentals of planning', which basically said, as a teacher, you have to plan everything - year, term, unit, week, lesson - by yourself. And my first thought was: wouldn't this lead to over-planning? And why not involve the students? And how can something so systematically planned out be flexible enough to allow for change when they're needed? I'm still a student-teacher, so still very much in the process of plan-every-activity-in-every-lesson-possibly-with-questions-I'll-ask, but it's not my topic/unit I'm teaching, they're not 'my' students, and I'm still learning, too.
    Anyway, my point was that our teachers and readings and so on are harping on about needing to plan everything for 'effective teaching', and not giving us any insight into how to bring the kids into the process (luckily I've done a bit of my own research, but I'm the minority), and so it's falling back to that teacher-as-dictator thing again. Hmmmm...

  6. Per usual, I think this post is great! It makes no sense to plan out a whole day, week, semester, year, etc. before you have even gotten to know your students! A loose plan, sure--learning objectives, goals, etc., but I think the key to great teaching is having the confidence to go in without a solid plan and engage your students in democratically producing a plan with you; also having the ability to adapt to meet students' needs and the dedication to put in the extra time and effort that is required of an essentially ever-evolving and changing curriculum.

  7. Two points:

    First, teacher preparation courses need to quit asking preservice teachers to write lesson plans for hypothetical learners. These teachers in training get use to planning without considering learners. We need to make sure teachers plan with specific learners in mind and then realize that this is messy. As a result, they will write guides not scripts.

    Second, our ed system trains us to question ourselves as experts (and not in a reasonable way). This is especially true for teachers who learn to not trust themselves. Consequently, they search for plans they can follow that will keep them from messing up (or it gives them something to blame - same difference).

    We need to change our system of education at both the k12 and college level. Join us at #edaction

  8. @delta_dc

    Both your points are well put. Lesson planning has become nothing more than the spawn of accountability which has devolved into nothing more than "cover your own ass from blame." This makes me think of Martin Haberman's Pedagogy of Poverty and this quote by Seymour Papert:

    Thanks for the comment!



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