Lessons come and go. Some are great, some less so. Sometimes a lesson that has been planned to within an inch of its life ends up shuffling that last inch and dying on its feet, just as you open your mouth; at other times, a lesson which contains huge gaps and freedoms where you didn’t really think things through turns into one of the best lessons ever and you find children talking about such a lesson years afterwards. There are some basics, though, which might help to set up for more ideal lessons more often:
1. You want children arriving looking forward to the lesson and in the most receptive and eager state of mind possible. The ideal lesson would be an activity where pupils came to your class to achieve something positive and where they had confidence they would attain it and excitement that they could apply it. This usually happens only when you have a track record of delivering ‘ideal lessons’, creating student expectations, but it can be done.
2. Your classroom space, apart from anything that the school or other authorities require it to contain, needs to have enough space in which to teach and administrate without crowding, in a place where students could identify and find it easily. ‘Of course,’ you might think, but sometimes these things fall out by increments too small for you to notice and you step back one day and find that your classroom is overcrowded or that you’ve been moved to an almost inaccessible part of the school. Not ideal. The space would also need to be clean and attractive enough not to repel anyone, with files and papers, baskets and books in good order, not scattered around or in disarray.
3. An ideal lesson would be busy looking. You as a teacher would tend to be in motion not standing or sitting about. But the main thing that an observer would notice would be communication: an intense pouring out of communication of various kinds from you and an equally intense flow of answers pouring in. There wouldn’t be a lot of stopping to correct people - students would be so engaged that not much on-the-spot correction was needed. You as a teacher would be interested in the students, each and every one. And the basic concept of a lesson -that each student would be interested in the subject at hand and willing to communicate about it- would be evident.
4. You might think this one goes without saying, but teachers would need to know what they were doing. Any class, particularly a class of teenagers, can almost psychically detect if a teacher is unclear or uncertain about something. That doesn’t mean that, in an ideal lesson, you have to know absolutely everything, but it does mean that you need to be honest and professional if you are caught out not knowing something that you should.
5. Students would be well rewarded because they were productive. In a lesson in which rewarding production, competence and good behaviour is really worked on - and by that I mean having systems in place which reward everything positive that occurs - then classroom management or behaviour issues are never a problem: rewarding students for the right things produces more of the right things, willingly, from them. This one is like magic and is perhaps the most incredible, unless you’ve experienced it or seen it done fully. You can find ways of rewarding everything from attendance to manners to homework completed, to accuracy and presentation of work. The more rewards, the better.
6. In an ideal lesson, students would be getting full results in every aspect of a subject and gaining new insights and skills. They would be walking out of the room with high praises, eager to take things further. Now, that may not always be possible with every student every lesson, but it’s an ideal to aim for.
With lessons like that occurring on a regular basis, any observer would feel that something remarkable was happening. Ideal lessons can be achieved, step by step, simply by working on each of the above until things improve overall.