Out with lesson plans… in with LESSON DESIGN!

Embracing elements of lesson design to spark learning


Lesson design is not a new phrase or concept. However, in the midst of ever-changing educational demands, lesson design has taken a back seat to “lesson plans.” From 5 E to Madeline Hunter, there are a myriad of ways to plan for students. One commonality between these various lesson templates is the idea that instruction is a PROCESS. In thinking of lesson planning and structure, what processes are we truly using to create learning experiences for students?

Design with students in mind

Think about your worst experience as a student yourself (or even during a PD). You know the one where you watched the clock, feeling as if you hadn’t learned anything new, and wished you were doing something more productive. If we hold our own experiences to memory, hopefully we’ll want to create better experiences for our students. Believe it or not, there are students sitting in classrooms uninspired; void of authentic learning. Why? Let’s entertain the fact that maybe just maybe, students are responding to lesson plans instead of lesson designs.

What’s a plan anyway? What’s design?

A plan is defined as:

A detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. (noun)

: to think about and arrange the parts or details of (something) before it happens or is made (verb)

Design is defined as:

: to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan : (verb)

: the process of planning how something will look, happen, be made, etc. : the process of designing something (noun)

Looking at these sets of definitions, I wonder how well authentic learning is fostered when students are functioning in the realm of plans versus design.

In order to tackle this thought, we must first decide what we want for our students. Do we want our classrooms to function “as planned” or “as designed”? Let’s face it, plans are necessary. As educators, we even know they are expected, evaluated, and mandated. Nonetheless, it is possible to incorporate design into our best laid plans.

Thinking about what we want for students leads me to a dollop of knowledge from one of my educational heroes, George Couros.

George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset, has spoken a great deal on innovation in learning. In his book, he also addresses differences between school (planned) and learning (designed):

  • School promotes starting by looking for answers. Learning promotes starting with questions.
  • School is about consuming. Learning is about creating.
  • School often isolates. Learning is often social.
  • School is standardized. Learning is personal.
  • School is about giving you information. Learning is about making your own connections.
  • School promotes surface-level thinking. Learning is about deep exploration.

Although we function in a standardized system (assessments and standards), many know that the way to true learning is through creating, socializing, personalized lessons, making connections, deep exploration, and questioning.

This means learning can be LOUD and learning also makes TIME for processing and exploration.

Process and Design

While a plan can explore some of these areas, I think keeping the terms process and design at the forefront of our thinking will in turn, produce deeper level, more creative learning experiences for students. Currently, educators may find themselves creating plans for compliance rather than students. It’s very easy to get into an auto-pilot mode and present your usual plans, or those that you’ve depended on each year (trust me, I have fallen victim to this as well). However, we must remember that as with life, plans change (and they should). If we want to ensure students have rich learning experiences, then we need to deepen our planning……by design….with students in mind.

Chew on this: We get a fresh batch of students each year with beautiful differences and varying levels. Yet, we utilize the same plans, assessments, and activities year after year. Hmmmm. Think about it.

Depth = rich learning experiences

What do we do? The 6 D’s…

So, how do we infuse design into our plans? I like to think of lesson design in terms of the 6 D’s. The 6 D’s of Solution Fluency is a process that allows learners to…..you guessed it, solve a problem! In trying to reach our students by providing rich lessons, we indeed have a problem to solve as educators.

6 D’s of Solution Fluency:

While many businesses and organizations utilize the process of the 6D’s, educators can also benefit from such a model in regards to lesson design.

After pondering over these 6 areas, I wanted to look specifically at how these pieces can be incorporated into the lesson design process. So, I put my own twist to each section that corresponds with the 6 D’s of Solution Fluency.

Define and Discover

Dream and Design

Deliver and Debrief

Many of these questions and components are things that teachers already do. However, the depth to which these areas are addressed makes all the difference in the effectiveness of your lesson. The “6 D’s of lesson design” can be a powerful tool to create deeper-level/engaged lessons for students.

I challenge us all to think about our processes. What is best for students? How can we create environments that stimulate rich thinking and discovery? How will we know when students are successful beyond our STAAR measures? Does design require more of our time? Yes. Some of the greatest projects, creations, and inventions of our time, took a great deal of time to come to fruition. However, if we focus on our time being a barrier, students will miss these rich opportunities for learning. Here is one mindset that I hold dear, and one that helps keep my practice student-centered:

This helps me remember that my #PreWorkMatters ! The more time, intention, and thought we place in the lesson design process; the better learning experiences will be for our students. In the end, it matters not that we “covered” or simply taught a lesson, but how the content was experienced by students. This is important when we reflect on our own practices. Many times we will express “what was taught;” however, what we should ask is “Did students learn?”

Ending Thoughts to Ponder:

  • Are students compliantly engaged (just working because you said so) or authentically engaged (they know the why and how of their work and are tuned in to the lesson)?
  • What does learning currently look like in your classroom?
  • How open are you to learning and growing as an educator?
Fixed Mindset teacher = stagnant student
  • Are students discussing, thinking deeply, exploring, discovering, creating, and engaged in information on a consistent basis?
  • Does variety exist within your classroom walls?
  • Are students involved in learning experiences or teacher plans?
  • Is learning based on student needs/interests or teacher wants?
  • Does your lesson design have students in mind?

I challenge us all to be bold and break the mold in our instruction…

Keep in mind student growth depends on design.