The day I forgot to plan my lesson, by Geography teacher @JohnSayers

Reading time: 5


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This post answers the 15th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. You can see my other top-Thunks here.

Thunk 15: The day I forgot to plan my lesson, by Geography teacher @JohnSayers

Answer below:

The day, or more appropriately days in my case, where I have not planned a lesson have been limited to a few occasions mainly due to guilt at not sticking to the Sscheme of work and thinking; “Oh, how will we catch up!?”

It has not always been this way…

In my early years as a teacher, a couple of non-planned days were down to music festivals taking place over a weekend and me frantically scrambling-around come Monday morning! I’d glance through students work books (as I considered them then), seeng where their learning had reached the week before and thinking on the spot , for a starter activity, which would ultimately be a beefed up plenary from the lesson before to test retention and consolidation of the learning.

Think fast Sayers!

The lesson would then progress to either a discussion or a suitable textbook task that would move the learning on to the next stage of thinking, rather than a slick-flowing progression with multiple personalised threads.

Multi-tasking in the classroom!

To be honest I never found these lessons to ever be a total disaster, especially with the gift of wisdom and experience in a classroom situation by turning a textbook activity into a turbo textbook sceanrio, by writing questions on the whiteboard at the front of the room and grouping students into pairs to discover the answers, only to have them to rush to me for the next question…

This would then get tweaked in the future, if say another social event had restricted planning to zilch, by teaming up rapid with slow partners, and making the rapid contingent communicate to the slower reader to help decipher the correct answer until both could whisper the answer in either my left or right ear at about the same time!

…then during the lesson a code could be created from each of the questions to create a key term, or like my writing at this stage, some other task that doesn’t quite flow that brilliantly!

I am almost certain that all teachers have gone through situations similar to this, or due to unforseen family tragedies, when our mindsets are too clouded to plan a sensible lesson. In this situation, I have found that honesty with my classes works best… and it really relieves the stress and tension which can make for quite a harmonious lesson, where the students see you as human or take compassion with you, either through respect or fear of the repercussions if they ‘try it on’.

The most successful non-planning days I have found with my subject of geography, are the days when a major talking point, locally, regionally, nationally or globally occurs and media coverage grips it. Students and staff are often blinkered and focused upon it. I can name a number of great teaching days I’ve had where students have shared their stories, experiences or perceptions, researched ideas with the rest of the class to compare and contrast, building up descriptions to seek immediate explanations for what, why, where, how?

This time last week on Sunday 14th October 2012….. Yes, you know who and what I’m about to say; or at least you will… Felix jumped out of a balloon, breaking record upon record!

Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space!

Twitter has seen many incredible stories from all spheres, about the jump, including teachers and how they introduced it into their class and lesson planning on Monday morning. I bet many introduced it with little or no planning – at all – but just the awe inspiring visuals or the mere mentioning of his name. This must have lit up the room with recognition of what was to be explored in the lesson?

As a geographer, I find my discovery-juices(!) take hold during large-scale natural disasters or events that take place on our door steps! This often leads to a ‘clouding’ from my usual routine and the planner gets firmly left behind on my study table.

I live in Newcastle and unfortunately have succumbed to flooding in recent times. Many of the students I teach were in similar boats  – excuse the pun! An inspired non-planned lesson happened as a direct result, where students analysed news stories, social media reports, photos and videos that the class had impulsively created…

…I even had a student make a phone calls to the rest of the class as they were flooded in. The class listening to the conditions, some wrote them down, others tried to draw what they heard. Students were then passed onto relatives, who wanted to tell the class that this was bad – “but not as bad as the one floood that happened in 1964!”

…This led students to ask the ‘primary source’ if they had other memories. This allowed students the opportunity to create a time-pattern of other occasions when flooding had occurred. High-ability students encaptured by the drama unfolding, took over role of tutor, seeking the cause and effect whilst the focus of the solution, was also the ‘here-and-now’ effects which still gripped or clouded the lower ability students. (My experience not just a narrow minded statement)

Another non-planned occasion, again a natural event, was the tsunami off the east coast of Japan. Many students woke up to the story and less than an hour later, were entering my classroom. The tsunami was the first thing that they mentioned. On occasions like this, it would in my humble opinion, be ludicrous to teach whatever was on the SoW. Geography should hold current affairs much closer to its bosom rather than remain in confined stereotypical plains.

Japanese Tsunami, March 2011

Geography – as the reader will know – is much more than just about natural disasters and looking at the physical world around us. Human issues like the dissolution of the Northern African countries and the Middle East regions are other key topics that spring to mind. Many students are not shy with asking the question;

‘Sir! Why?’…

…during lessons like this, the BBC is such a great site, as a starting point for looking at a situation from a variety of angles. The incredible interactive pages that they develop so quickly are a fabulous teaching resource for lessons that are not planned. Just try it out next time students bring in a topic into the classroom.

On other occasions, politics and strategic and decisive decisions that will have a bearing on the students that we teach, have gripped students. For example, last week my form class have created what they think the Scottish Government will have to consider, if it is going to rule itself.

This is not an advocation to drop the pen or a computer and thoroughly plan a suitably personalised lesson, with a varied collection of collaborative and AfL strategies intertwined, but on occasion, we should drop the trowel and let impulse take over when something dawns that is worthy of learning.

The overiding aspect here, is that we have a suitable and compulsive plan, that can only come out with experience!

By Geography teacher @JohnSayers, edited and posted by @TeacherToolkit.

John Sayers is a Geographer and Coach who loves learning and teaching ideas to inspire learners. He is keen on SOLO, Public Critique and the SAMR approach for mobile devices. You can follow John’s blog here:

Geography teacher, @JohnSayers

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