Would you board a plane but not know where you are going? What about take on a job but not have any idea as to what the expectations are? For some people this spontaneity may be exciting from time to time, but even the most free-spirited will crave some sense of bearing.
Although this is only my second year in a position in which I observe other instructors, I am amazed by how some can go into a classroom and teach without at least acknowledging the day’s objectives. I wonder if students feel like lost passengers taking a flight to an unknown destination. Providing the day’s objectives may be something that some instructors take for granted: “It’s on the syllabus,” one might say. However, just writing or merely verbalizing the day’s objectives can give that class day a sense of purpose and direction, not just for the students, but for the instructor as well.
Knowing all of this, what I posit next may seem completely ludicrous: What if, besides letting the students have access to the day’s objectives, they are also able to see the class’s lesson plan? I’m not talking about the full, detailed version that includes the instructor’s notes on how to administer the activity, but simply the outline of everything to be covered that day. What if the students had access to past and future lesson plans (for those instructors that have taught the course before)?
Now entering its second year, the intensive elementary Spanish course that I chair has been utilizing this idea. As one could imagine, it involved a lot of work uploading a semester’s worth of material onto our course management site. It was more difficult still to also make it an interactive lesson plan where if one clicked a hot link, the documents, videos, and presentations seen in class would be at one’s disposal.
So what were the results of this endeavor? Students were asked in their mid-semester feedback forms how they felt about having access to all of this material. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Because students had access to the calendar throughout the semester, they commented that the class expectations were much more salient, that they felt better prepared for class and for assessments, and that the online calendar greatly helped with their overall organization. Most important of all, students said that the calendar contributed in making their language-learning experience much more enjoyable.
This does not only benefit the students but the instructor as well. When I go into class, I login to our course management site and display not only the day’s objectives but also the whole plan for the day. Regardless of whether I use the computer that day, what they see on the screen is “home,” and we can refer to it at anytime. I like to think of it as our program for the day.
Given all of this hard work was put into this project, it made the most sense to share these pre-made plans with the team of instructors that I coordinate. This was very significant for this group because every year several instructors are new to teaching at our university. They felt that course calendar was a “tremendous resource” in that they knew that they did not have to start from scratch in developing their lessons, but could instead build upon, improve, and personalize what was already there. This also aided experienced instructors who were teaching the course for the first time because it exposed them to new and different types of activities. One specific instructor, who has a score of teaching experience, felt that the activities that were prepared, the way that class was organized, and the manner in which it was interwoven with technology had helped her grow significantly as an instructor.
The work involved in preparing this goliath of a project was immense but knowing how much it had greatly aided my students, instructors, and me has been rewarding. Since its implementation, classes have run a lot smoother, objectives have been covered at the same rate throughout all the sections, and overall enjoyment the course has increased. The destination has been clearly mapped out for all.