Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Point of a Lesson

I am not a huge fan of collecting lesson plans and have not been for years.  It is my opinion that you can learn a great deal more by collecting and looking at assessments.  Regardless of where you stand on the whole lesson plan debate, the intent is what really matters. For all of us who have taught or have been in a leadership position that supports teachers, I think we all agree that the point of any lesson is to help students learn.  Yes, there are standards and curriculum to cover as well as essential concepts. There are activities, projects, and assessments along the way. In some cases, innovative techniques such as a more personal or blended approach might be the preferred pedagogical pathway. No matter what constitutes a lesson, the goal remains the same – learning.

If the intended outcome is clear to us, it goes without saying that the same must be said for our learners.  This begs a fundamental question that should always be considered – do students understand the point of the lesson?  If not, then it is challenging to meet any goals that are set.  It all begins with a clear articulation of the learning outcomes.  For many of us, this comes in the form of objectives.  I know when I went through my coursework and teaching certification process this was emphasized in any lesson plan.  As I entered the classroom what I was taught carried over and objectives were not only included in every lesson plan, I developed, but I also listed them on the board for all the kids to see. Herein lies another point. I am not saying that objectives should always be posted for all to see. However, it is crucial that kids understand what is to be learned on any particular day.

I have reflected a great deal on the objective aspect of the lesson and in my coaching with schools on pedagogy have advised them to move away from this traditional component of lesson design and implementation.  Objectives, if we really think about it, are more often what the adult wants to achieve in terms of alignment to standards and concepts as well as scope and sequence. Just look at how they are written and see if you feel the same way. Learning targets on the other hand frame the lesson from the students' point of view and are written using “I can” or “I will” statements. They help learners to grasp the lesson's purpose such as why it is crucial to learn this chunk of information or concept, on this day, and in this way. Quality learning targets as part of an effective lesson help kids answer these three questions:

  1. Why did we learn this and what will I be able to do when I've finished this lesson?
  2. What idea, topic, or subject is important for me to learn and understand so that I can do this?
  3. How will I show that I can do this, and how well will I have to do it to demonstrate that I have learned something new?

Developing learning targets does not go far enough though.  Learners need to understand the point of a lesson just as much as a teacher or administrator. Imparting relevance through a specific context and application will go a long way in achieving this. However, everything must be tied together from the learner’s point of view. This is why closure and reflection at the end of the lesson are crucial.  Either one or both of these elements can be tied to the use of a KWL chart. Chech out this updated version below.

From a pedagogical standpoint, it is vital to build these in each and every day to bring the learning process full circle. Bottom line – everyone should have a good sense as to the point of a lesson.


  1. You might be interested in this view of lessons. It's based on the TIMSS studies wherein the strategies described in lessons were videotaped and correlated with the learning outcomes of students in the United States, Germany, and Japan. From my view, that's the value of a lesson plan. The clearer teachers are about their strategies in lesson plans, the more we can discover about what strategies had the most and least impact on learning -- the mark of a professional.

    With the advances in learning technologies, I created Learning Layouts to integrate evidence-based teaching strategies into technology rather than to integrate technology into conventional lesson plans. We'll need more research similar to the TIMSS studies for virtual teaching and learning.

    1. Great information Nick that covers the first piece of the post. The key consideration though is a shift to the learner and how he/or she perceives the point of any lesson. All too ofter the balance of power, structure, and planning is focused on what the adult wants or will do. For a lesson to really be successful it is just as or even more important the the learner can articulate from his/her point of view why the experience and activities were valuable.

    2. I think the "shift to the learner perspective" was effectively supported in the TIMSS studies. The videos show how teacher strategies were learner-centric and facilitated students to be more engaged in the learning process and to share their own solutions to complex problems at a higher rate in countries that did well versus countries that focused on teach-led procedures. I guess my takeaway adds results to the equation and builds on yours: "... just as or even more important the learner can articulate from his/her point of view [the solution to a problem and ] why the experience and activities were valuable."