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Considerations for Instructional Methods

Dr.. Bob Kizlik
Updated December 17, 201

Lesson planning is one of the core skills that are part of  professional preparation.  These skills are usually taught in schools or colleges of education in a series of modules or presentations that initially involve developing a learning objective based on a curriculum, or set of explicit subject-matter goals. The next step requires sequencing a number of activities in which the teacher and students interact in some way. Following this interaction, there is an assessment and the next lesson begins in the unit or other sequence that follows a curricular structure. There are, however, some variables that relate to the instructional activities that should be considered. What follows is a brief description of some of them.

Any planned instructional procedure or teaching method for a particular lesson should also address the following questions:

Does the lesson plan permit adjustment for students with different abilities?

There probably has never been a teacher who has a class of students whose members were of equal ability. The instructional method(s) planned for a particular lesson must take into account student ability. There is no substitute for doing this. The range of abilities in which students differ is truly staggering. Included are cognitive disorders, emotional handicaps, physical handicaps, and student mastery of appropriate prerequisites for any given lesson. It's a load to factor all this in, but as a lesson planner, you should at least have a serious awareness of this.

Does the lesson plan encourage the students to become continually involved in learning activities?

Instructional activities or procedures should not be static descriptions of what the teacher and students will do. Any good teacher will tell you that he or she makes adjustments in instruction based on feedback from students. The idea is obviously to keep students focused and involved in learning. For students to be continually involved in learning activities will require resourcefulness on the part of the teacher, but it is a consideration important to planning any lesson.

Does the lesson provide for adequate coverage of the content to be learned for all students?

"Adequate" and "cover" are such weasel terms! They can mean almost anything, depending on whom you ask, and often mean little or nothing. Probably the best way to think about this is to say to yourself, "what is the least amount of content that students should learn to indicate some level of agreed upon mastery?" Notice the operative word is "learn." If you've thought about what you're doing, you will have specified this level of learning in the criterion statement of the lesson objective. Click on that learn link above and read in the Johnson Schema for curriculum what I mean by learning.

Does the lesson permit for monitoring of student progress?

You should consider how you will monitor the progress of your students during the lesson itself. There are ways to this, and these ways are collectively referred to in education jargon as formative evaluation. All this means is that you must determine how you will monitor the progress of your students. The purpose of this monitoring is not just to collect information about student progress. Rather, it is to have ways in mind about how to use this information to make instant changes in lesson procedures. If you consider a lesson as a collection of discrete activities that are sequenced in some responsible way, then each activity has a beginning and an end. The ends may be thought of as events, and it is here that meaningful information about student progress may be derived. The events are "milestones" on the path toward the lesson objective. Information about how your students are progressing may indicate that some reconsolidation and reordering of the sequence of the milestones is warranted.

Does the lesson provide for adequate assistance for students who do not learn from the initial procedure?

If only everyone "got it" right the first time! The reality is that almost no lesson is 100% reliable. That means some students will fall behind. They "won't get it," and you need to think about what to do about that. The problem is compounded because you are confronted with the real problem of what to do with the students who did "get it" while you are attending to those who didn't. Usual pedagogical thinking suggests that the "got it" students can be given some ancillary work, or some enrichment materials while you work with the students who need your help. Maybe, but just be aware that this will start to wear thin after a few lessons. This is one of the eternal problems in teaching, and it has really not been solved to anyone's satisfaction.

Does the lesson provide adequate practice to permit consolidation and integration of skills?

Vince Lombardi, the legendary former coach of the Green Bay Packers, is reputed to have said, "Practice does not make perfect. perfect practice makes perfect." Of course he was talking about skills related to playing football. The operative word here is skills. There is no substitute for developing and honing skills other than practice. That always means, in a practical sense, that there is a skilled observer of the practice who can provide feedback to the learner. It is true in every field where skills are taught n some formal way. The quality of the practice, and just as important, the quality of the feedback to the learner are indispensable.

Skills are one thing, but what about conceptual learning? What about understandings we want our students to acquire? Is there any way to practice developing concepts? This is a thorny question. since concepts are unique to the individual forming them, it is difficult to "practice" doing this. Probably the best a teacher can do is have students explain in more than one way what they know. Therefore, conceptual learning is incompatible with multiple choice tests.

The preceding descriptions are opinions. They are not truth. Anyone planning a lesson should at least keep in mind the posed questions. Answering them for each lesson can improve instruction.

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