Lessons & Courses
Review written by Henny
Director of Studies at the BLC in Madrid
The title of this
book - Planning Lessons and Courses - appears to be self-explanatory
and straightforward and hints at a product-oriented approach.
However, it is the subtitle - Designing sequences of work
in the language classroom - that really captures the process-oriented
essence of Tessa Woodward's latest work. As Woodward states
in the introduction:
I take planning
to include the following: considering the students, thinking
of the content, materials and activities that could go into
a course or lesson, jotting these down, having a quiet ponder,
cutting things out of magazines and anything else that you
feel will help you to teach well and the students to learn
a lot." (page 1)
This is a refreshing definition
of planning and a very realistic one, and Tessa Woodward's
book is likewise refreshing and realistic.
The eight chapters of the book
revolve around eight generative questions:
are the students?
How long is the lesson?
What can go into a lesson?
How do people learn and so how can we teach?
What can we teach with?
How can we vary the activities we do?
Getting down to preparation?
What are our freedoms and constraints?
In each chapter Tessa Woodward
poses her questions and then discusses what these questions
really entail, interspersing her thoughts with a series of
useful practical classroom activities that can be used by
teachers as a way of exploring the issues. It can be difficult
for many people to find an accessible style when writing about
teaching, but Tessa Woodward always manages to express complex
ideas and concepts in a deceptively simple way. She uses metaphors
to great effect throughout the text. This is how she introduces
Chapter 3 - What can go into a lesson?
chapter I'll look at a wide choice of content to put into
a lesson or course. If the last chapter was the garden, metaphorically
speaking, then this chapter is the seed catalogue where lots
of different possibilities are briefly described just to get
you thinking about your choices of what to teach. Just as
you don't normally read a seed catalogue from cover to cover,
I'd suggest you dip in to this chapter as and when you need
to." (page 73)
The gardening metaphors seem
particularly appropriate as they reinforce the idea that lesson
and course planning are organic and the idea of growth and
development is always present. In my opinion, this book is
as much a book about student and teacher development as it
is about lesson and course planning and I think Tessa Woodward
is right to have adopted this approach. What she manages to
illustrate is how by focusing on an essential area of teaching
- the planning stage - teachers can cater for their own development
and their students'.
Related to development,
this book is just as useful for a new teacher as it is for
a very experienced one. Tessa Woodward discusses why, on the
one hand, inexperienced teachers can stay up all night planning
just 45 minutes of class time and, on the other, an experienced
teacher can switch onto "autopilot" and
do things they have done many times before and use their energies
in other parts of their lives such as bringing up children,
learning fencing or falling in love again." (page
According to Woodward, experienced
teachers can call on their use of "chunks" - the
running together into a smooth sequence all the little steps
that we have previously learned. She feels that if inexperienced
teachers could be helped to acquire these chunks their lives
would be easier. At the same time, Tessa Woodward points out
that chunks can sometimes be negative for experienced teachers.
"On the darker side,
however, it's also partly these same chunks that make trying
something new difficult for the experienced teacher
they can now lead to a rather stultifying, routine way of
working. If experienced teachers could be helped to wander
off these paths, how much more interesting our work might
be." (page 8)
One way that teachers can get
to know more about how they plan is by using what Tessa Woodward
calls "The four-column analysis". It is a way of
getting from classroom tactics to talk of beliefs and values.
The starting point is the drawing of four columns:
You will have to go to Woodward's
book to find out what to do next with each column (pages 9
- 14 inc.)
For me personally "The
four-column analysis" activity is the most interesting
one in the whole book, but, as I hope I have implied above,
there is something for everybody in this work and the parts
that grab your attention will depend where you are and at
what stage of your career you are.
Far from being a necessary chore, Tessa Woodward shows how
planning can be turned into a creative developmental tool
and that is no mean achievement.
has the following articles up on this site:
diversity - Managing Same-Sex Orientation
in the Classroom
to the Learners: The Role of the Learner Diary
in RSA/UCLES CTEFLA Teaching Practice
the In-Service Feedback Session to Actively
Promote Teacher Self-Development
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