March 11, 2011

Lesson Plan Gone Right!

By now it is clear to me that I want to be a teacher. When I'm spacing off on Interstate Highways, I'm thinking about lesson plans. I should focus more on the road, you're right. But still. You could drive from Lincoln to Kearney with your eyes shut.

The more I learn about teaching, the more successful my lessons become. No surprise there.

I've been wanting more direction with my Lincoln Literacy Council student, a gifted writer and musician from Korea. I've also been wanting to test-drive sample writing assignments. Seems like a good fit.

So I drafted out a basic 5-paragraph personal essay assignment with the cliche title "Words to Live by." The object is to write a simple essay connecting the inspirational quote of your choice to your own life's mission while also including information about the quote and its author. My initial assessment of the assignment was twofold: this sounds like a legit assignment and this is total crap.

I would have chickened out of giving her the assignment, but at our last meeting, she said, "Could you give me some writing topics that have to do with America?"

Haha! I whipped out my 3-rind binder and presented her with a shining copy of the "Words to Live by" assignment. She was politely skeptical of the rigid structure and topic, but I assured her (and myself) that it would be a great exercise.

Later that week, I sat hunched over my netbook at Scooter's Coffee, trying out my own assignment. And hating it. I couldn't find the right quote or voice for such a self-promoting piece. I settled on a Nelson Mandela quote, "a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination." Then I got stuck between a politically charged rant and a timid Miss America speech.

What a terrible assignment. I wonder how my student is doing.

So today, just minutes before our lesson, I knew I was going to need a teaching tool, something to divert attention away from the crappy assignment and on to the good intentions behind it. I flipped through my Lincoln Public Schools Gifted Materials (which, by the way I have yet to be assigned a mentee!). I chose the Venn diagram exercise because it seemed the least irrelevant. I drew three interlocking circles and assigned each a title: Me, Quote, Author. I wasn't so sure it was going to work.

My student, though still critical of my assignment (I grateful for her comments during the test drive), had found a quote and had already encountered some of the same difficulties I had at Scooter's. To my delight, our Venn Diagrams served as a perfect medium to collect and organize our thoughts and to discover the areas we needed more information. As she was filling in her diagram, she discovered that the author of her quote was a clergyman and she was able to compare and contrast her own Buddhist beliefs with the quote of a Christian. I felt very rewarded when she began drawing deeper connections between the three circles. Actually, she helped me brainstorm through my diagram, too. As always, the successful lesson plan was beneficial for both of us.

I left the lesson on a high note, thinking: Hmm. Teaching is better when you have some training and specific expectations for the lesson. Glad I'm going to get a lot of that very soon. Do you hear me, grad school?