Inspired Alchemy: Reconceptualizing Lesson Planning as Creative Work

By Hurst, Heather | English Education, October 2020 | Go to article overview

Inspired Alchemy: Reconceptualizing Lesson Planning as Creative Work


Hurst, Heather, English Education


I began reading Elizabeth Gilbert s (2015) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear over a winter break after I d just taught an English methods course. That semester, I had dutifully shared my university s lesson planning template with my students, deconstructing each component of a lesson. Here s how you write objectives. Here s how you differentiate. Here s how you assess. My students wrote and revised, wrote and revised-and the process felt tedious, mechanical, and life-sucking. My students seemed more preoccupied with getting the components right than they were with engaging their students or impacting student learning. They were anxious about having the correct pieces of an ABCD objective and enough means for differentiation. The additional pressures of external assessors, such as edTPA for students and CAEP for teacher preparation programs, compounded the problem, as we collectively feared issues with certification or being able to maintain

our accreditation if the lesson plan was not right. I was consumed by Gilbert s (2015) suggestion that ideas are disembodied, energetic life-form[s] (p. 36) that are constantly swirling about us, trying to get our attention-a challenge given our busy distractedness. When ideas find that we aren t receptive, they move onto someone else, until an idea is finally able to reach us because we are your anxieties might ease, and then magic can slip through" (p. 36). I could hardly describe my methods course as open and relaxed or my students as having eased anxieties in this era of continuous assessment of their nascent pedagogical knowledge and skills.

Gilbert (2015) described moments of inspiration and creative living: "Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea" (p. 36). My breath caught upon reading that sentence because it resounded so with my lived experience. I realized that, during my years of teaching, my creative work has been lesson planning, even though I had never quite conceptualized it as such. As I matured as a classroom ELA teacher and trusted myself to deviate from the lessons laid out in our purchased anthology, I realized that lesson planning was not a rote chore but a life-giving, inspired activity. Now in my career, lesson planning is often all-consuming, an endeavor that I must take care with, lest I miss a meeting or forget to pick up my child because I've so completely lost track of time.

The staleness of the lesson planning formula I was teaching in my methods class contrasted sharply with the flow state that I enter when I plan lessons for my own teaching. Because I do not have to worry over getting it "right," I am instead entirely consumed with dwelling on the lesson I am preparing, as ideas spark ideas. Good teaching is magical in the sense that it takes skill and practiced sleight of hand-and thoughtful lesson planning.

What Lesson Planning Has Become

Remarkably, lesson planning is infrequently discussed in English Education. We believe that it is one of the core instructional activities in an English methods course (Caughlan et al., 2017), but no article that I could find within the journal takes up the concept of teaching lesson planning to English education students. Is it that the practice of lesson planning is too mundane? So commonplace that we don't quite see it? A taken-for-granted process that we haven't interrogated?

At my institution and likely at many others, students are provided with a template for their lesson planning. Ours looks much like one I came across on a teacher educator's blog last fall (Miletta, 2019), which prompts teacher candidates to list the many components of a lesson: objectives, launch or hook, and instructional activities. The template has expanded since my own teacher education coursework nearly 20 years ago but fundamentally looks the same. Leander (2015) likens these templates to laboratory reports. We've referred to these templates, on occasion, in English Education. …

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