Noplan: (Of teachers) The art of discerning one’s lesson, fully-formed, in the ether, mere moments in time prior to the convergence of all contextual factors at the site of engagement with learners. Not to be confused with ‘no planning’, which is not an art, but a laziness, characterized by procrastination, avoidance, diminished motivation, conflicting priorities, and the like.
Noplan: 2 Examples
Of course I just made that up, but here are two examples with which to lead.
1 – A homework task
Final week of the writing class I’ve been blogging intermittently about since March. In two weeks they sit a goofy standard exam in which they write a semi-functional fake email and a canned 1-paragraph essay. So, I want them to know what to do, but also to see some real communicative purpose to writing in English. From the previous Friday to the following Wednesday, nothing came to me. My imagination was as dry as can be, I wanted the semester done with, wanted to catch up on this blog and my own professional/technological development… So there I was with a sheaf of my students’ latest efforts in my bag, ready for the 50-minute accuracy class on a Wednesday afternoon. The extent of my planning was to save 10 minutes at the end to elicit the form and some lexical chunks that shape a persuasive text. I was waiting for the elevator, with six floors to come up with a useful writing task for homework… and it arrived with the elevator as the constellation of mediating factors converged ever-more-tightly on the site of engagement for this class. At the end of the class I sent my students home to write a blog post in email form (OK – not quite right but the form needed practice, too), in which they try to persuade me to give them the grade for the course which they think they deserve. When I mentioned the task last night during an #auselt tweetchat on ‘making General English interesting’, it was met with responses like “Genius” and a few others I don’t need to boast. The thing is, it’s not genius — it’s just maximally authentic, given the localized context.
2 – A Task-based lesson
I had a two-hour class with the same students this afternoon, the last of the semester. We’d used a lot of tech to write during the course, but all of it had been well-motivated stuff like that described in 1), in varying degrees of complexity, which you can read about in this series’ earlier posts. I wanted to have one last fun workshop class that would wrap things up with a bang and get them ready to tackle the exam with some confidence. I thought about it for a little while on Wednesday, but nothing came to me. Didn’t think about it at all yesterday. Didn’t want to get out of bed this morning because I still hadn’t thought of anything. But then as I was pouring coffee and feeding my dog and NOT thinking about, I saw my students doing useful tweeting and real communicating. I realized that I wanted my students to spend 100 minutes communicating in English with other people who communicate in English. I mean, really, who doesn’t want their students to do that? So I thought about them, and how this could be scaffolded and handled in class, and at 10:30 I saw this lesson in ‘the ether,’ and wrote it on the class blog.
1. on Twitter read about Psy (#psy), and tweet something about him with that hashtag; find Psy’s Twitter handle (@psy_oppa) and read his recent posts, and write to Psy.
2. Repeat (1) with a (Non-Korean) artist of your choice.
3. Find your favorite English language film on www.rottentomatoes.com, register or log in with FB, read the discussion forums about your film and choose a comment to respond to.
4. Write me an email to convince me to follow your favorite celebrity. Include brief history, character/physical description, and 3 reasons to follow this person.
4) was clearly the one to extend in to homework, and the one to be worked on with paper/pen by students whose phone batteries died. I hated having them email me again, but plan to link my students internationally next semester, and would include this as a task for that context. 1) was a scaffolding task to demo/remind students about twitter, and introduce its real world functions. 2) and 3) prove to them that their English tool has practical personal uses beyond this course.
There was no plan, but there was a noplan.
In class I added a speaking interview PW task to get students to tell each other their favorite celebs/movies. We id’d ‘#’ as ‘about’ and @ as ‘to’, because we’d used them differently earlier. The rest was improvised based on what students asked/came up with/did during the tasks. For example, with one student I explored the structure of links in tweets. In brief, noplanning allowed me to be free to deliver what my students needed as they needed it, and to stay out of their way when they needed nothing, so that they could get on with learning how useful their English was to them.
By trusting that the right plan would appear as the moment of truth neared, if I let it, and realizing that I would prevent it from appearing by planning the lesson too far in advance, it is quite possible that I maximized learning outcomes for all of us.
What are your noplan stories?