Teach People, Not Lessons
Last spring I had the opportunity to present a guest lecture about blogging in Adolescent Literature, a class offered on campus I took the year before. I had blogged for a year and, although I didn’t consider myself an expert, I had written nearly 100 blog posts and enjoyed doing so.
When I was presented with the chance to get others excited about blogging, I jumped at the chance. To prepare for my lecture I brainstormed in my writer’s notebook about the topics I needed to cover. I also wrote a “Blogging Basics” blog series, covering topics from widgets to subscribers to readability.
My plan for the guest lecture was to publish a blog in front of the class, demonstrating how to enter tags, hyperlinks, and photos. Then I would launch into a more in-depth look at the backside of blogging. I wrote an articulate plan complete with bullet points and presentation cues.
When I presented the guest lecture, my neatly written agenda went well for the first half. I eloquently showed the class each button to use to publish a piece. I published an awesome post right before their eyes, demonstrating my impressive expertise.
And then my lesson plan crumpled before me.
The students in the course had never been exposed to blogging before – that much was evident. After I hit “publish” on the blog post, I was about to delve into more tech-y blog things but I looked out across the class. I saw confusion creeping into the wide eyeballs of the every person.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a bullet point for this unexpected occurrence. I thought I had clearly shown them how to blog so I continued with my plan, “Uhm. So now we’re going to…”
“I don’t get the tag thing!”
“What even is a tag?”
“What was that blue button you used?”
“How did you add that website?”
The questions bombarded me from every direction of the room. I couldn’t keep up with the penetrating rapid-fire. Suddenly I knew my plan needed to change. And fast.
“Okay! So the first question was about tagging. Tagging is just like hashtagging on Twitter. It helps when…”
I tossed my lesson plan to the side and addressed the many inquires the students presented.
I opened the floor to the students’ questions and I slowed down to answer each one of them. I left the class feeling like I had accomplished my goals for teaching blogging but I still couldn’t shake the disappointment of my faulty lesson plan.
Fast forward to last week:
The same professor asked me if I’d be willing to share how I blog with my Digital Literacy class. After the last lecture experience I wanted to prove to myself that I could teach blogging effectively while feeling satisfied with the session. Again, I jumped at the chance.
This time I didn’t elaborate my neatly thought-out plan on paper. I knew what beginning bloggers needed to know and I knew how to show them.
It was game on.
I began my presentation by having students write their blogging questions on the whiteboard. I needed them to direct the presentation because the session was for them, not for me or my extravagant lesson plan. Informally preassessing what students already knew helped direct my entire presentation.
I took a similar approach to the first blogging presentation and went through the steps I take to write a post. This time I slowed down and addressed the students’ questions thoroughly.
I didn’t have a bullet-point lesson plan and I didn’t need one for this presentation. I had an agenda already created in my mind and I left this session feeling completely satisfied with the whole direction of the presentation. From my perspective, it seemed like my classmates felt more comfortable asking me questions because I took the time to ask them questions first.
Please don’t misunderstand me: all lessons need a plan and all teachers should create lessons with plans. Teachers cannot teach off a whim and be unprepared for classes – that leads to chaos and disorganization. When I teach I will have daily lesson plans and an agenda. However, I will not get so caught up with my lesson plans that I forget I’m teaching students. I want to give my students space to ask questions and explore answers.
Needless to say, I learned that, while planning is awesome, it is always best to teach the students in front of you, not the students envisioned in your head.
Teach people, not lessons.