Lesson plans – how you show you know what you know

Teacher metacognition for 21st century classrooms

I’ve been involved recently with observing EAP lessons and assessing submissions for the BALEAP TEAP portfolio. In both cases, I’ve viewed lesson plans, which were enacted in classrooms or linked to observation reports. It seems to me that the teachers often missed an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge about language and language teaching and about the attributes required for successful study at university through their plans. Teachers can have quite negative attitudes to lesson plan preparation, regarding it as an onerous chore and not something an experienced teacher needs to do. In some observed lessons, I’ve sometimes been presented with the bare minimum of a list of tasks, some timings and an indication of the student groupings for each task. This does not show whether the teacher understands the rationale for the tasks and how they link to learning outcomes and assessment. I might catch a glimpse of this as I observe activities in the lesson but there is much more scope for a teacher to show what they know in a detailed lesson plan than in a 60 minute observation.

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Observations for accreditation have a different purpose from observations to assess teaching quality and consistency on a Foundation or Pre-sessional programme. Accreditation observations are developmental rather than managerial. The observer aims to support the teacher to meet the competency statements in the TEAP Competency framework to the best of their ability. The observer may be a colleague, if the institution employs a teacher who is a BALEAP TEAP Senior Fellow, but most often TEAP Portfolio observations are carried out by an external assessor. This means that a lesson plan for accreditation observation needs a lot more detail as the external assessor will not know the programme syllabus, materials or assessments. Adding in these details enables the teacher to show their thinking about how the learning outcomes for the lesson fit the syllabus and assessments and how they expect the lesson to unfold. They can show their knowledge of the language and study strategies they intend the learners to acquire by providing answers and explanations to tasks.

In a recent article, Hiver et al. (2019) propose the term teacher metacognition as a means for teachers to link reflection, thinking about thinking, with adaptive action. ‘Metacognitive teachers exercise a capacity for careful intentional thought about their classroom practices and the underlying rationale for such instructional behavior (p.7). Hiver et al. highlight three aspects of teacher metacognition:

  1. metacognitive knowledge, – knowing what, knowing how and knowing when or why to teach
  2. metacognitive skills – processes to monitor and guide thinking about teaching
  3. metacognitive experiences – emotions and judgements in the moment-by-moment activity of teaching.

A lesson plan for accreditation purposes provides an opportunity to evidence all three aspects of teacher metacognition. Metacognitive knowledge is evidenced by describing the needs of the learners, the learning outcomes and the assessments of the programme and how the learning can be transferred to a new context – degree studies. I have seen some excellent lesson plans with very detailed profiles of the learners in the class, their education backgrounds, level of language proficiency and intended degrees. This awareness of individual needs was then used to justify the choice of materials and tasks and any adaptations to meet those needs.

Metacognitive skills can be evidenced in a lesson plan by including, for example, summaries and reformulations of learning outcomes for each stage of a lesson to show how the teacher plans to support the learners to develop their own metacognitive knowledge about language and study competence. Anticipated problems or alternative examples or explanations can be included, even if they are not used, as they show a teacher is able to create alternative scenarios to exploit unplanned learning opportunities. The lesson plan provides a springboard for a discussion of metacognitive experiences during the lesson, how the teacher felt about different parts of the lesson, what worked and what did not.

Knowing what you know and being able to use this to monitor and guide your teaching explicitly and to assess the effectiveness of your lessons is important for creating classroom activities and interactions that lead to learning. Hiver et al. (2019) make the point that it is tempting to see teaching situations with considerable external control, for example pre-sessional programmes with prescribed materials, as lacking opportunities for teacher agency and hence opportunities to exercise teacher metacognition. However, they cite Doll (2012) in suggesting that thinking explicitly about what you know and how to apply that knowledge enables a teacher to ‘promote more dancing and less marching’ (p.11) in the classroom.

Hiver, Phil, Whiteside, Zach, Sánchez Solarte, Ana C. & Kim, Claudia J. (2019): Language teacher metacognition: beyond the mirror. Innovation. in Language Learning and Teaching, DOI: 10.1080/17501229.2019.1675666

Author: Olwyn Alexander

I'm an author and researcher in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I collaborated with two friends and colleagues, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer, to write EAP Essentials: a teacher's guide to principles and practice, now in its second edition. Sue and I also wrote the course book series, Access EAP: Foundations and Frameworks.

2 thoughts on “Lesson plans – how you show you know what you know”

  1. “Demonstrating knowledge” when I’m not sure what I know – or even am convinced I actually know relatively little – has been quite the stumbling block for me over the 6 years of summer EAP teaching I’ve engaged in. But I am coming to realise I do know valuable stuff – perhaps I don’t yet have as much language knowledge as David Crystal (who does?!) but I do have knowledge of what it’s like to be a graduate student and what it takes to become a better / more effective graduate student. Guidance and mentoring from assessors such as yourself, Olwyn, is a wonderful boost and helpful reminder to keep thinking and reflecting on- and in-practice.

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    1. You do know lots of really useful stuff about being an effective graduate student and that’s so valuable to pass on to pre-sessional students. My point really is that you only know what you know once you write it down – hence the value of the BALEAP TEAP Portfolio.

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