Good to go

“Is it good-to-go?”

“Can you make something that’s ‘pick-up-and-go’?”

“It has to be a lesson a teacher can pick up and teach”

“I don’t have time, I need something that’s’pick-up-and-use?”

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard these phrases I’d have, well, a few pounds.

The situation where they are said usually involves an element of urgency and lack of planning/preparation. This ranges from teachers with no time between classes, ones who arrived late to people who’ve just been given a cover. However, I’ve noticed that these kinds of materials are often the norm in some places. Worksheets have been around since the dawn of the photocopier and even before that they were hand copied by priests, or so I have heard. The alternative is ‘lesson ideas’ which are also spreading fast. These don’t always include handouts but rather a string of stages and exercises that need little or no preparation.

I used to love a book called The Minimax Teacher and at the time of its release it caused a stir. My DOS believed it was the future of teaching and encouraged teachers to follow. Why? Well, it wasn’t just altruistic. At that time contract teachers were sometimes believed to “have time to waste” when they weren’t teaching so any way to reduce their planning time meant more wasteful time which could be filled with delegated tasks. Not too long after our hours got increased and a bank of Minimax style ‘good to go’ lessons appeared and grew.

Anyone who’s read my Dogme posts here, on the excellent language moments or elsewhere will know my ideas about low material use, or rather maximised usage and post-planning. However, post and pre-planning tend to be similar as one leads to the next. As time goes on I’ve come to see my lessons as continuous and a course as a whole flowing entity where you refer back and things also move forward.

Where the ‘good-to-go’ idea fits in is that after a class has finished I’m already thinking about what to improve and work on next lesson because it’s natural. In fact, give me 5 minutes and I’ll be ready. The next week may allow for more reflection but it may also detract from my memory.

I’ve always been against ‘good-to-go-one-off-lessons’ probably because I’ve mainly taught courses. I am in favour of teachers having their own favourite lessons or types of lessons but I don’t like this ‘one size fits all’ lesson worksheet that’s delivered to anyone regardless of their level, age etc because the teacher is just making some money. This also involves the “doing the __ lesson” approach as though the students are just dazed puppies sat lapping it up.

To take the idea to the extreme, I interviewed at one place where everything was ‘good to go’ and “only needs 5 mins to read”, normally at break before the class or on the walk to it. They even had laminated cards ready. My first thought was “I’m just a card handerouter and a follower of a plan”. That kind of factory worker teaching is not for me.

I am guilty of preparing lessons and courses for teachers which I thought needed little prep (they were not paid for it so I thought it was helping). However, it sometimes takes longer to understand someone else’s stuff than make your own, as I found on some uni courses. One was a film/culture course with a syllabus that I spent a week trying to figure out how to teach. I’d been told what/how the co-ordinator did it but I don’t like to just redo other people’s stuff that I don’t really get. Thus, I redid the whole thing based on the overall principles of the course and what students liked and needed week to week, it was great. When people came in to ask me for ‘good to go’ stuff I could even offer a text, exercise or activity but not a full plan, just some ideas and possibilities.

Here’s an example of a new pick-up-and-use course book: http://www.macmillanstraightforward.com/about/

Questions

Are one-off lessons enough for a full course, especially a daily one?

If photocopiable good-to-go worksheets/books are the future then have we seen the end of teacher books and extra resources and even CDs that need preparing?

Are good-to-go resources just the answer to unpaid prep time?

Is the modern EFL teacher more savvy than 10 years ago and just doesn’t need lots of instructions?

6 thoughts on “Good to go

  1. I have the same issues and reservations. I have one or two colleagues who plan like I do and we can usually pick up from each others’ stuff, but by and large I can’t be doing with “off the shelf” lesson plans. I’d rather have a resource or text, and work it out. For our CELTA course we have a drawer full of lesson plans and materials as well as stored electronically. This course so far I’ve never actually opened the drawer.

    If I’m honest, though, it’s because the planning helps you work out the best way of doing things, and I need to do thr even if the last person to deliver that lesson was me.

    • Thanks for the comment Sam.

      Oh yes, I’ve been in places that have built up whole folders of plans, I’ve done it myself for other people but I never redo lessons. People think I’m bonkers as I spend more time thinking and experimenting but it means all my classes are different. Half because I prepare different things and half because of the students.

      Someone asked me why I make full lessons like a plan on my debate blog. Well, they are made from mini discussions in class that I evolve into a full lesson but I never do the whole thing. There are stages and videos and motions and depending on how things go I can use 1 or 2 things but having prepared or rather thought out a possible lesson progression and made possible activities I can chop and change.

      What might be good is an evolving lesson plan where everyone who uses it changes it slightly so after a month it will be completely different.

  2. Interesting topic (again!). I think it depends hugely on the situation. Over here, a full time (secondary school) teacher has 26 lessons of 50 minutes a week (plus other duties too) in classes averaging around 30 pupils. We teach them to be critical and trust their own creativity and instincts but also understand the huge pressure they are under and why it’s easy to grab the coursebook and open at page 1 and work their way through the book with the odd adaptation. Perhaps boring and traditional but well thought-out and covers the syllabus from a to z (huge backwash – they are, after all, aiming at state exams) in a fairly logical order. I have a love/hate relationship with good-to-go materials like this (i.e., I love to hate them!) but rather than saying the teachers are getting better I think the materials are getting better!

    • Hi Louise,

      Thanks for the comment. Oh yes, ‘other duties’, I remember those can sometimes become more important than the teaching.

      Yes, I remember those long hours and the the resources were just so perfect 1)It was easier to use them 2)Most people used them 3)They did cover all the teaching points 4)They looked good. As a new teacher trainee I was never taught about them, in fact we were taught to make up everything and the teachers called these materials ‘cheat sheets’. They were mainly used by foreign teachers and the websites were hidden in secrecy. The older teachers had huge folders of materials, many copied worksheets, which they had made or had been handed down. I saw the same in uni where teachers arrived 2 minutes before class, opened a folder, went “lesson 4…ah, this is good” and then went to class. Well, there is the argument that these teachers had perfected some kind of ‘perfect lesson’ but I know they hadn’t and just redid the same stuff because it easy. But, who has time to do otherwise? You have to come to your own decision on this issue I guess.

  3. Hi Phil,
    An interesting post – I think the difference is like clothing – are you happy with something off the shelf or do you prefer a more bespoke tailored approach?
    I have a large bank of lesson plans and materials on my computer that I bring out and re-use time and time again – I don’t have time not to take this approach frankly – but I would say that while I might use the same lesson plan, I never actually teach the same lesson! Firstly, the learners are different people with different experiences and reactions, secondly, you get better at it – you remember what went well and what didn’t and I tend to adapt these lessons on the fly. The other thing is that I have a nice bank of language lessons that I can pull out when I look at the coursebook and think “I have no idea what this is trying to achieve.” or “That seems like a particularly dry and ineffective way of approaching this language point.”
    David

    • Cheers David. Nice to see you back again.

      I love these:

      “I have no idea what this is trying to achieve.” or “That seems like a particularly dry and ineffective way of approaching this language point.”

      But I think the second is being rather too polite maybe. At 7:59 before class starts I’m sure it’s more like “what pile of….”

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