Learning from “Lesson Bombs”

In the age of digital sharing, there’s no shortage of ideas for the classroom. As a result, you’ve probably felt the buzz of finding the most incredible strategy that is so perfect for your classroom. As a TeachCycle coach and former teacher, I know the mad rush to generate student interest and growth and the resulting experience of working quickly to fit a newly-discovered strategy into the next day’s lesson plan. You practically prance into school the next day: “Alright guys, I’ve got a GREAT lesson lined up for today!” And then…it bombs. Terribly. The kids don’t understand the lesson objective, and they’re off task or frustrated. Or, they do understand, but they listlessly complete the task, asking for the great activity you’ve been advertising.

What happened? How can we learn from the “lesson bomb”?

Big, blockbuster strategies sound amazing on blogs and lesson planning websites (like ours!). “Kids own their learning!” “Students are engaged in high-level discussions!” “They’re solving complex problems!” The trick, though, is that these outcomes aren’t the result of one day’s worth of lessons. Complex strategies like hands-on investigations, silent discussions, and self-paced assignments require the development of shared expectations, engagement and ownership, student-friendly rubrics, and more. But, as our site acknowledges, it can be difficult to take the time to introduce each of these components. It feels snazzier to have kids jump right into writing blogs rather than spending the time clarifying expectations, building knowledge and skills, but we all know that if those blogs are going to be worthwhile, students need to understand what’s expected of them.

TeachCycle can help you to implement pre-strategies so that your kids get more out of a Jigsaw than detention. We understand, as you do, all the different steps required to implement student-directed learning strategies. We also understand how difficult it can be to map out those steps when you’re knee-deep in the school year. As a TeachCycle coach, I helped my teachers implement high-leverage strategies at a step-by-step-pace appropriate to their classrooms. For example, when our goal was to have students meaningfully discuss novels in self-directed book groups, we focused on setting expectations for the unit and goals for reading in the first loop. In the second loop, we introduced accountable talk stems to increase students’ ability to speak productively in groups. Finally, in the third loop, students were able to engage in productive socratic seminar…because we had taken the time to set them up for success!

“Lesson bombs” happen to every teacher, but taking the time to plan and implement lead-in steps before introducing high-leverage strategies increases the chances that students will engage and grow from day one.