The Importance of A Lesson Plan: A Personal Experience on A Classroom Research as A Substitute Teacher

This article is based on a classroom research using phenomenological approach conducted by the writer at the end of 2009. It addresses the significance of a lesson plan in one particular classroom session conducted by the writer as a substitute teacher. It draws on Lesson Planning that is not merely taking an activity or pieces of material into class, but more to careful thought on all areas in the English teaching and learning process: language, skill, learning aids, stages and techniques, repertoire of activities, and classroom management. It provides recommendation for improvement for English teaching at STAN by setting up a good lesson planning and by sharing some tips taken from the experience of the writer in that particular teaching session.

TOEFL 2007

TOEFL 2007

 

Lesson planning is vital for teachers and trainers for the success of language teaching and learning process (Harmer, 1991). During the planning phase, teachers make decisions about goals, activities, resources, timing, and other aspects of the lesson. (Farrell, 2002). This article attempts to discuss systematically of my teaching session as a substitute teacher at STAN for the purpose of improving instruction and for proving the importance of a lesson plan. The discussion will be chronologically presented from the pre-plan, the planning, the repertoire, and all the underlying principles in every activity. In the final part, I will conclude the importance of a lesson in my teaching and propose some recommendations for teaching, especially English, in the context of Indonesian college like STAN. 

The Pre-Plan

It’s a bright day: I have finally got the permission letter from the Head of my training center to teach at the State College of Accountancy (STAN) for one day in the next two days. Just one day because I take my colleague’s class, Mrs. L’s, to conduct a classroom research by becoming a substitute teacher in her class. Therefore , I prepare everything hastily: a teaching evaluation form obtained   from the Evaluation Division at my office and the lesson plan. Frankly speaking, I usually make a mental lesson for all my teachings without a deep thought. My teachings are opportunistic and unprincipled: I just follow my insight that certain strategies, resources, or activities will be good for my students or trainees. That procedure always works well, so I keep on doing it. With that speculative teaching, I always try to reflect and analyze after the teaching for my future betterment. Reading Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching (1991) has enriched my understanding on the importance of pedagogical knowledge; therefore, I begin to make a clearly written lesson plan before conducting a class. My point is that a written lesson plan can lead me to a more successful teaching, especially in a new class for me.

 

To discuss the reason why I teach reading in that session, I can elaborate several things. First of all, it is already stated in the syllabus or GBPP (Garis-Garis Besar Program Pembelajaran) that the seventh meeting of English II class is to discuss reading problems on stated details, negative facts, and inference as well as the grammar focus on conditionals and comparatives. If I violate that syllabus, that will be a great loss for the students, who are notably going to have a midterm test after the eighth meeting. Second, I agree with Harmer’s notion (2004) that reading has positive effect on student’s vocabulary knowledge, on English spelling, and on student’s writing. Especially in writing, reading is a good model for English writing because it can show students the way a sentence, a paragraph, or an essay is constructed. Accordingly, their vocabulary will be enriched by reading how the English words are used in the discourse. The last is that reading can stimulate a discussion with the students, which can be an exercise of their reasoning. Students will have to think and response in English in order to be able to participate in the class discussion on the reading.

 

I move on with the making of the lesson plan for the day. The subject I teach is English II, given to students of semester 3 of STAN Jakarta. That means I will not teach complete beginners; therefore, I can review some points in their previous lesson quickly. The time estimated is 2,5 hours for 3 SKS, and I have to make a careful division for introduction, teaching presentation, and review. I make the lesson plan with clear and specific objectives (i.e. 1/ to solve reading problems on stated details, negative facts, and inferences   2/ to do exercises on Comparatives and Conditonals). It is important to make objectives that are directly measurable, for I will be able to tell whether they will be met or not in the learning process).

 

If anyone see my lesson plan, it is rather unbelievable that the so many objectives will be achieved in a relatively short time. But I wil resist because the STAN syllabus urge me to speed things up by getting all students do whatever I planned according to it. Moreover, some grammar focus were already given in the English I class in the first semester. Based on my experience in teaching STAN students for more than ten years, it is not a big burden for students to follow such as tight plan. Indeed, mostly they do well in the mid and final tests. I think that’s mostly because they are selected students who are used to competitive atmosphere and they passed each semester with a minimum GPA of 2,7 from a scale of 4,00 and an English I score of C at the minimum.

 

I put in the lesson plan that I will use an LCD projector to show students the slides of points on grammar and on reading. I also prepared two cassetes to record my class interaction, and I brought two notebooks to present teaching materials and to record my teaching using webcam. I prepare anticipatory sets of several copy of handouts for students just in case there will be some problem in using the electronic media on the teaching day. (Later, I will find out that my anticipatory sets help me a lot to keep the class running smoothly).

 

Talking about the teaching materials, the main reading is a text taken form L.G. Alexander’s Developing Skills (1997), which has the language focus on the grammar of the day, and three texts from Barron’s Practice Exercise for the TOEFL Test (2003). I choose that genre by a specific purpose that the students will study various topics of English texts. For me, STAN students’ main interest in English is for accessing text for academic study and recreational purposes. And TOEFL reading texts provide many topics ranging from general interests (such as announcements, advertisements, food labels, course descriptions, college regulation, etc) to textbooks or biography (for courses like business, finance, social science, arts, etc). Also, each TOEFL reading are provided with six different reading problems, and the mid/final tests take the source from TOEFL readings. Thus, using them will be advantageous for the students, too. In the lesson plan, I specifically put arts and entertainment topics, in the assumption that students would find the texts interesting and fun for them.

 

Experience has taught me that there is no single method to teach English grammar. Depending on the competence of the students, a proper blend of methods proves useful for me. I plan not to teach grammar too elaborately like in GT (Grammar Translation) Method as devised by Richard (1998); rather, I brought students several grammar exercises to refresh what students have already known about it. In my view, many exercises suit STAN students, who also have English grammar items for testing, which fetch them marks in the exams. As I know some students have studied comparatives and conditional in semester one, they should have a solid understanding of that basic Grammar; therefore, it is mandatory for me to give them as many exercises as possible with a higher level of difficulty for sure. Practice makes perfect, the more practice will do them good. If in the teaching day I find the session can not accommodate all exercises I prepared, the rest can be assigned to the students as home assignment for time efficiency as well as for their self-practice. I exhale, grammar exercise is also the evaluation plan, which means the pre-plan is almost done. Now the lesson plan is set, I am ready to teach at any time. I will follow it step by step the next day.

 

The Teaching Day

It’s the teaching day. The time was 2 p.m. As I entered the classroom, some students stopped conversing, some were smiling, and others were staring at me in confusion. I looked around the classroom, and I realized it’s a big class I would teach, approximately 34 students. It’s time for me to do the opening session: I greeted the class and explained them why I substituted their teacher that day. I also explained the activities that would be covered that day. I asked them to make a name plate on their table using a piece of paper, so that I could impress them I know them all by their names. Then I challenged the students to ask me any questions they wanted to know about me in English, and the class started to be a bit noisy, which was not bothering me at all. I did that with a purpose to make them know me better in an interactive way, so that they would be ready for the real classroom interaction with me. For me, challenging students to speak is necessary to increase their responsibility to participate, and then they can gain confidence in using English in classroom interaction. I got many questions, ranging from personal questions to strategies in learning English, and I could see the ice had been melted and I could start to teach the class.

 

I taught intensive reading according to my plan. First, I asked a student to read the first reading aloud. Then I used the exercise questions on reading for class discussion to check their comprehension. The reason entails developing analytical and critical thinking in students. I believe they the know the text and have great deal of more knowledge remain unlocked. By discussing the passage, students will develop their analytical thinking as they interact with me and their classmates. Another importance is that their communication skills will also be improved, because I also use that activity to correct their pronunciation. I explained them that reading aloud is a rehearsal opportunity to improve speaking skill, and I motivated them to keep on improving by doing so themselves at home. In explaining the meaning of the new vocabulary for students, I described them in English, although some students know the meanings in Indonesian. For example, when I defined ‘casualties’, I told the class that it is described as people who are injured or killed during a war’. This will show students that they can do that rather than translating directly into Indonesian, because we usually can not find the equivalent translation for certain English words or phrases in Indonesian. By describing meaning, we also use our bank of vocabulary in our brain storage to use in actual speaking.

 

After discussing the first reading, I used the second reading on TOEFL to explain reading problems stated in the lesson plan: details, negative facts, and inference. The step was similar to the previous: asking one student to read aloud the text. With the second volunteer, I found out that I have to explain a bit on how to pronounce English words. I wrote down on the whiteboard some phonetic symbols, and I saw most students were enthusiatic with my explanation. They were surprised that a bit different pronunciation will convey different meaning in English, then I explained a bit about minimal pairs for their vocabulary enhancement. The next presentation, I explained the strategies to cope with questions on stated details, negative facts, and inference, sometimes in a mix between Indonesian and English. For me, using a hundred percent of English in an afternoon session like that day can lead to a ‘disaster’ because it may bore or even confuse some students to no end. Although I found most students were well-behaved and a pleasure to teach, still I didn’t want to risk loosing their attention in that ’nap-time’ hours. Therefore, I also put some Indonesian jokes, just to make them smile. As I had to move on to explaining grammar, we only did two reading exercises quickly. One reading exercise was discussed in class, and the other was submitted to me for my own evaluation.

 

To encourage students to read as often and as much as possible, I suggested them some website addresses to visit for an extensive reading practice. I wrote some on the white board, such as www.ets.org/toefl, www.englishpractice.com, www.inggrisonline.com, www.usingenglish.com, etc. Here I am in favor of Harmer’s notion (2004) that good teachers encourage students to read extensively by providing them libraries and time, letting students have choice and getting them to give feedback.

 

Dealing with the grammar lesson, I taught that inductively by explaining briefly the grammar rules on comparatives and conditionals, and then I asked students to make some sentences using the rules I explained previously. Again, I used bilingual explanation occasionally and put some jokes, in the hope that students will find the materials easy to understand and fun to learn. When I tried to use the LCD projector to show my slides, it turned out to be unsuccessful, since it could not detect my notebook. Some students tried to help with the problem, but they could not make it. Not wanting to waste more time, I lead the students to use the copy handout on the grammar focus of the day. There were also many grammar exercises on the handout I prepared, I used some to discuss in class and the rest were assigned for their homework. That with the aim that students will keep remember and understand the language construction better by themselves.

 

Dealing with the constraints in teaching, I found two major things: campus facilities (LCD projector and TOA microphone) and the shy students. For one, the LCD was not working properly, or it might be out of order. That year, 2009, the facilities were not as good as nowadays. Luckily I had the handout copy as the back-up plan. Another thing is I couldn’t wander around classroom and move freely since I had to stay in one position, in the middle of the classroom, holding a heavy microphone connected to TOA speaker to record my speech. But the most constraint for me that day was some students were shy to speak up, so I tried hard (from my ‘fixed’ position) to facilitate, animate, and ensure that all participate in the class interaction. My intonation, gestures, facial expressions, statements, motivations, jokes, etc proved successful in gaining their attention and making them to speak. No sweat at all: for me, teaching is not only about instilling knowledge into students, but rather it is a complex process of advancing students’ ability to become active and in control in the learning process. When they are active, the continuous interest with learning topic of the day will be guaranteed.

 

The two-and-a-half-hour session was almost over. I summarized the materials by asking them some questions on strategies in grammar and reading skills, and most of them could answer the questions correctly. In the end of the session, I thanked them and asked them to fill out the evaluation form I prepared before. While filling out the form, some students still asked questions, both personal questions and questions on grammar focus. I tried to answer one by one, but since the class was about to be used by a different class, I gave them my e-mail address for further questions. The class captain helped me to collect the evaluation forms and packing up all my stuffs, and again I thanked the class. The exhautive teaching day was over.

 

After Teaching

I think my teaching that day was not as successful as the way I used to teach, although most students said that they like my teaching. The average score of the evaluation form is 87, not bad indeed. (The evaluation form used that time was an older version). I realize the limited time and the minimum preparation on my part, which then lead to the rush I did in all my presentations, the materials are not properly elaborated in my explanation, and the facilities problem that worsen everything and disabled me to perform better. As I read students’ suggestion on the evaluation sheets, two students (6%) wrote that I should give more elaboration on the materials, the other two (6%) said that I should get closer to all students (in fact I couldn’t move the classroom easily since I was stuck with a heavy microphone on my hand), and two more (6%) suggested that I should learn to use teaching facilities better. Six students (18%) wrote that they wanted me to be their English teacher, and three students (95) wrote that they liked my pronunciation tips very much. One student’s (3%) suggestion is that I should speak slower because to him, my English pace of speaking is too fast to catch.

 

I appreaciate those comments very much and I feel that those are the real feedback I want to hear from my students. In many ways (this is my favorite aspect of teaching), I have always felt that as a teacher, I am also a student. The students teach me how to improve myself. I learn from them how they would like their teacher to be, so as they can be more motivated to learn. I quote from a Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, a mutual learning paradigm: “Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human being pursue in the world, and with each other”. Perhaps most importantly he insists that “Dialog cannot exist…in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people”. I love teaching, and I love my students, too. I could not agree more wholeheartedly with Freire, and love is what I take with me to every class I teach and every students I face. Even if students gave me bitter evaluation on my teaching, I would not regard it as an insulting criticism. I think that is the expression of their hopes from me and their love for me.

 

What I also learn from my classroom research that day is that a lesson plan helps me a lot in my teaching. It makes me feel more confident in facing a new class, because I know the sequence of what I should do next, as Harmer (1991) noted, a structure for a lesson, a ‘map’ for teacher to follow. The report on the second reading exercise that I evaluated after class informed me that students still need more practice in reading problems on inference. (On two other skills, 78% and 85% of the class population can answer correctly, while inference skills has only 36%.) Therefore, I reported to the class teacher the results of the reading exercise so that she can take further actions. Indeed, the prepared evaluation gives me valuable feedback on my teaching performance, the quality of the class, and the students’ experience with me.

 

Finally, I realize that a written lesson plan also makes me become more organized: since then I have a lesson planner in my computer notebook to use for my next teaching. I can store all my plan content, even copy paste or link between another program and lesson planner, and access them later with a double click. I can add and edit everything I want: from learning strategies, sources, lesson evaluation, and so on. I have tried to share such lesson plans over my network, and I think it can draw me inspiration from the plan of others and to keep a check on the organization curriculum planning (especially for STAN and my training center, Pusdiklat Keuangan Umum).

 

To conclude, a carefully planned teaching proves a great help for my teaching that day, since I have everything done as I planned before. Although I was not very satisfied mith my teaching that day, I feel that I was successful in using my anticipatory set, and the class was still running well until the end period without anyone itching to leave. Therefore, I would say that all English teachers of STAN should (or if I may say: it is mandatory) make a regular meeting to share their views and lesson plans so as we can work out collaboratively to improve the quality of English teaching in our campus. I would also like to share several thing in this article for an efficient teaching based on my own classroom research:

–        be overly prepared. Have a clear lesson plan down on paper, and be prepared to make changes to or scrap your lesson plan

–        learn your students’ names, for you can control the class better and gain more respect

–        be knowledgeable about your subject very well. For example when you teach English grammar, this includes pronunciation (phonology), syntax, morphology, and so on

–        choose the exercises very carefully, which meet the meeting objective and the students’ needs

–        motivate students with variety: quotes, stories, attention, etc.

–        be enthusiastic. If you love teaching profession, as you are a lecturer or a trainer, you should show your genuine interest in teaching and enthusiasim in class

–        use humour to liven up the class because students need to laugh sometimes

–        circulate: move about the classroom. Since I could not do that, some students thought that I kept a distance with them

–        be frank. Praise students when they can give correct answer and encourage them when they are not doing as well as they can

–        be reflective. Think about your own teaching after the class is over, and think of some improvements to make

 

I hope this piece of writing will contribute to English teaching at STAN in particular, and, in wider scope, to teaching college students. Happy planning! ^_^

 

Bibliographical References

Cross, K. Patricia and Thomas A. Angelo. 1993. Classroom Assesment Techniques: A Handbook for Faculty 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Farrell, Thomas S.C. 2002. Lesson Planning in Richards, Jack C. And Willy Renandya.

Harmer, Jeremy. 2004. How to Teach English. Harlow, UK : Longman.

Harmer, Jeremy. 1991. The Practice of English Language Teaching: New Edition. Harlow: Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers.

Richards, J. C. And T.S. Rogers. 1998. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching: A Descriptive Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sheen, Ron. 1994. A Critical Analysis of the Advocacy of the Task-Based Syllabus in TESOL Quarterly 28 (1): 127.

 

Online Bibliography

Beare, Kenneth. (2008) Using Reading Comprehension in Lessons. Retrieved January 13, 2010 from http://esl.about.com/od/englishlessonplans/a/l_useread.htm

Dahley, Andrew M. (1994). Cooperative Learning Classroom Research. Retrieved December 16, 2009 from http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~andyd/mindset/design/clc_rsch.html

Field, John. (2005). Why Classroom Research?: Voices 185. Retrieved December 16, 2009 from http://www.iatefl.org/content/newsletter/185.php

Kochis, Bruce. (2008) Classroom Freserach: An Introduction. Retrieved January 16, 2010 from http://www.evergreen.edu/washcdenter/resources/acl/cl.html

Smith, Mark. K. (1997). Paulo Freire. Infed Search Ideas. Retrieved January 21, 2010 from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-freir/htm

Urr, Penny (2008). In Language Teaching, Which Is More Important: Language or Teaching? Rterieved November 2009 from http://www.tttjournal.co.uk

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