Like driving a car

This is a response for the Ontario Extend module Teacher for Learning, specifically the Mastery section which looks at mastery of a subset of skills that educators deconstruct and teach, in order for students to achieve competency of the subset and the expected outcomes. The metaphor of driving a car is used to bring meaning to this notion of mastery learning.

So what skill is like driving a car in the field of teacher education? I’d like to look more closely at lesson planning and delivering a planned lesson to a classroom full of students. It’s really challenging when teacher candidates look at a lesson plan template and then teach from that plan for the first time. Once they sit in the seat, behind the wheel, the look of a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ comes over them, just like that teenager behind the wheel for the first time.

Lesson planning is not natural, but it is necessary. Learning the fundamentals ensures a confident ‘driver’ emerges in the end. Teachers who don’t go through the steps carefully, think critically about goals, success criteria, differentiation, cross curricular connections, strategies, questions to ask, assessment, student’s actions, management directions, or their own locations in the room, are doomed to crash that car. They think they know what to do first [e.g. put the key in the ignition] and where to start. But, once faced with the awesome responsibility of planning the lesson, then sharing that lesson with students in a classroom with a whole host of potential actions and reactions, it’s pretty scary. Lesson plans can look great on paper but crash and burn in the doing part! Some of the worst planned lessons can be jewels in the moment of delivery. Getting both parts right is necessary for safe and effective ‘teaching’ (driving) experiences.

With a graduated system of ‘licensing’ it’s a process of perfecting the lesson planning from the paper to the real events. It’s like starting the car in the driveway before taking the car out into the empty parking lot. It’s about having multiple, low risk experiences before going out to the #401 highway. In lesson planning, it’s planning for a small group instructional event before taking on the whole class.

It’s driving with a master driver before it’s done on your own, without anyone else in the vehicle. Being mentored with a practicing teacher is an essential part of the lesson planning system. It’s seeing lesson plans as the evolve from detailed, specific documents to free-flowing guidelines for actions. It’s seeing that what is written is often shifted in response to student needs, actions, reactions and interests. It’s watching from a master practitioner that the static plan on paper is a living, breathing opportunity for learning.

Is it a perfect system for figuring out how to write and deliver lessons? No. There are still places where accidents can and will happen in the lesson planing process – from paper to classroom experiences. And even efficient and effective drivers don’t always get it right. Reacting to the context, conditions, and the unexpected is part of the ever evolving process in lesson planning and in teaching those lessons.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that lesson planning and then teaching that lesson is sort of like learning how to drive a car, not like actual real life, driving. It gets easier to do. You get better with experience. You can transfer those skills to new ‘vehicles’ when you move from grade to grade. You don’t need to refer to the manuals each time you step in to do the deed of driving, just as you don’t need to refer to the curriculum documents every time you sit down to plan. You can drive further, farther, and in a variety of conditions, the more practice you get behind the wheel. Lesson planning is like that! Teaching from those plans is like that!

BUT, I’m not saying that teaching is like driving a car – that can never be said! Lesson planning and teaching is not like taking control of any kind of complicated machinery. Nope, not even like rocket science. It’s harder than that! Just listen and decide for yourself.

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3 Responses to Like driving a car

  1. Terry Greene says:

    Wow Helen, this is such a good post. Really brought this activity to life for me! And I love the snarky video!

  2. Steven Secord says:

    Helen, I was coming to complete this activity as well and thought: “I am going to write about lesson planning!”… then I saw your post. You’ve said it all, so I guess I’m looking for a new topic.
    I love the detail you provide for the similarities of learning to drive a car and learning how to lesson plan. I think all Faculty of Ed students should read this post. It might help them to embrace the importance of lesson plan and understand why we have them doing lessons in our classes, it’s so that when they get out on the 401 highway system, i.e. the classroom, they will know what to do when somebody cuts them off.

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Thanks Steve. I appreciate your comment. The driving analogy has been used before but it just fits when we see students in the Faculty of Education struggling with why they have to perfect this ‘craft’ of lesson planning. The expectation that the first experience is ‘401 driving’ rather than the ultimate goal is sometimes difficult to shift. The first driving experience, and lesson planning experience, should be in a ‘parking lot’ (wide open space with nothing to hit or damage) with an experienced driver sitting beside them. It may not be fun or exciting, but essential to build skills and confidence. Helen

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