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Book Review

Planning Lessons & Courses cover

Lessons & Courses

by Tessa

Review written by Henny Burke,
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:

• Who 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?

"In this 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 4)

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.

Planning Lessons & Courses cover

Henny Burke has the following articles up on this site:

Cultural diversity - Managing Same-Sex Orientation
in the Classroom

Listening to the Learners: The Role of the Learner Diary
in RSA/UCLES CTEFLA Teaching Practice

Using the In-Service Feedback Session to Actively
Promote Teacher Self-Development

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