Q & A with Marnie Reed and Christina Michaud about “Goal-Driven Lesson Planning for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages”

by Claudia Leo on May 10, 2013

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For what types of courses and programs did you write Goal-Driven Lesson Planning for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages?

We always imagined the book being used in any Master’s-level or certificate program that prepares people to teach ESL/EFL. We know of at least one TESOL Master’s program that uses the text in its introductory methods class, for example.

We also have worked extensively with community-based ESL and literacy tutoring programs or adult basic ed. programs; these programs provide brief orientations for their volunteer teachers and tutors, but then the volunteers often find themselves lost when the realities of working with ESL learners hit them. We wanted to write a book that would be helpful for this group of volunteers, so that it could guide them toward a more results-based approach to teaching.

How do you use it in your program(s)?

In the Master’s program in TESOL here at Boston University, we use the text in the student teaching practicum and accompanying seminar, to replace previous texts we’d used that encourage reflective teaching. Students work their way through the text over the course of the semester, as they’re actively engaged in their own student teaching and preparing their own lesson plans for the first time.

What advice do you have for instructors in MA TESOL programs for making lesson planning a bigger part of the curriculum?

We often hear from experienced teachers that after many years of preparing their lessons in one particular way, they eventually realize they need to switch approaches and focus more on learner outcomes. Our book is designed to get new teachers to that point sooner, so that they’re able to help more students right from the start of their teaching careers. We encourage teacher trainers to get new teachers focused on lesson planning not as more work or additional hoops to jump through, but rather as more efficient work for classroom prep. More specifically, including elements of lesson planning into existing materials design courses could help pre-service teachers see the links between selecting (or writing) new materials/activities for students and setting specific language goals for them.

Why is it important that teachers create goal-driven lessons that fit individual teaching styles, as opposed to following ready-made lesson plans? How do students also benefit from this approach, especially long-term?

We don’t have a problem with “ready-made” lesson plans themselves, of course. There are certainly some books and sets of materials that do have solid, goal-oriented lesson plans that build in a cumulative sequence toward specific outcomes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with teachers using those.

The key here, in our minds, really is that teachers need to be absolutely clear on what the language outcomes will be for learners: if teachers can keep these outcomes in their minds throughout the lesson, constantly monitoring for on-target progress, then any lesson plan (ready-made or original) can be used successfully. There are certainly some textbooks and sets of “lesson plans” that require more work from teachers–teachers may need to set their own language goals for students, pick and choose among activities, even skip around in a book that isn’t clearly building toward specific outcomes.

We’re thinking here of a former student teacher who was working with a solid reading-skills textbook, trying to teach from a chapter on identifying the main idea and supporting details in an expository essay (which in this case happened to be about soil erosion). She managed to get students to “do” the exercises in the chapter, in order, but the students clearly had no idea what they were doing and why, and she made no efforts to help guide them. At the end of the lesson, with students were still unable to complete the multiple choice assessment questions that were designed to show whether they could successfully identify the main idea in a paragraph, she suddenly realized that that was the goal of the lesson. If she’d had a more goal-oriented focus from the beginning of the lesson, the students would have been able to walk away from the class not feeling like they’d wasted an hour learning about a boring essay on soil erosion, but instead realizing that they’d learned the skills to identify the main idea and supporting details in any expository text.

How does goal-driven lesson planning change the role of the teacher in the classroom?

At the end of every lesson, teachers should always ask themselves if this lesson succeeded. There’s one and only one way to answer that question, and it’s not by looking at how much students seemed to enjoy the lesson. Of course it’s great when students enjoy a class, but teachers need to look at measurable, observable outcomes–they need to actually be listening to what their students are saying in class, and checking to see if students are actually using the target structures from the lesson. If so, it was a success!

Knowing where you’re going, and more importantly where you’re taking students, really expands and elevates the teacher’s role in the classroom. Teachers are then free to work on two levels in the classroom, checking for students’ conceptual grasp of the material and productive ability to use the language targets, leading to better learner outcomes.

Teachers often struggle with assessment, which might even come as an afterthought to their lessons. How can goal-driven lesson planning help language teachers integrate assessment to their lesson goals?

Lesson plans, and goals, start with assessment. The only way as a teacher you’re going to be able to know whether students “get” a topic is by observing what students are saying or doing with the language targets at the end of the lesson. We ask student teachers to actually script what they imagine learners saying (or writing) at the end of the lesson that will show them the learners have mastered the target. Student teachers who have gone through this process report that it can be revolutionizing for them to think about lesson planning this way–by beginning at the end, essentially–because it forces them to think about assessment and outcomes right at the start.

Are you available for presentations or to train ESL teachers on this topic? What is the best way to contact you to make these types of arrangements?

Yes, absolutely! We often speak to different groups of teachers and consider this part of our commitment to the larger community of teachers. Feel free to email one or both of us at our BU addresses: tesol (at) bu (dot) edu (Marnie’s address) and cmichaud (at) bu (dot) edu (Christina’s address).

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