Saturday, 4 March 2017

Lesson plans and The Life of Pi

I will venture a sweeping statement here which many (some?) teachers might object to. I don’t believe in ready-made lesson plans, and by that I mean lesson plans that a teacher has prepared and/or used and which are meant to be used by other teachers in different environments.

There are many reasons why ready-made lesson plans do not work.
The main one is that each one of us is a different person with a different attitude towards life and people, a different philosophy – I daresay. When we prepare a lesson, a part of us or the whole of us shines through it.

 Let me illustrate with an example. I am a strong believer in incremental knowledge, which means I don’t expect my students to memorise fifty words in one go and would not dream of assigning more than half an hour’s homework. Therefore, when I choose a text to prepare, I have different expectations of my students. If I want them to do intensive reading, the text cannot have too many unknown words as this interferes with comprehension and renders the task daunting. On the other hand, if the text is more demanding, I will think of a task that requires overall understanding of the text but also gives the students some sense of direction and purpose and warrants maintaining their attention.

I will provide an example of a simple exercise I prepared using the 56th chapter of Yann Martel’s book The Life of Pi. In this particular chapter the main theme is fear, and the actual word fear is repeated a record ten times. So I removed the word fear and asked my students to read the chapter and try to guess the missing word pointing out that it was the same word ten times over.

Here is the text

Once this is done and their interest has been sufficiently stimulated, the students could proceed to search, for instance, for the physical symptoms of fear and perhaps asked to find an image to match each one of them. They could then find all the words related to war (defeat, enemy, adversary, battle, soldier and so on). If the students are mature enough, they could engage in a discussion of reason and instinct and the part they play in decision making in our life.

The example serves to support the claim that different teachers would approach the text in different ways depending on how they stand on more fundamental issues and it is impossible to set goals for other teachers in a lesson plan simply because teaching is geared to the students’ needs and goals and it is a process which is constantly  being readjusted depending on circumstances.

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