By Mayra Yaranga Hernández
A new school year is about to start and, before pupils arrive in their classrooms, teachers need to have completed quite a lot of work; for example, subjects need to be planned in advance for the entire year. This seems to be a logical step to ensure a sense of direction in our teaching. Although reality shows a quite different picture.
Teachers may feel overwhelmed even before the race starts. The paperwork that needs to be done seems never-ending to many: creating the subject annual plan, dividing it into units, lessons, components within each lesson, materials, coursebook choice, and so on. This can become rather stressful and it also limits teachers’ time to analyse their students’ actual needs and discuss alternative strategies and generate innovation in their own contexts.
It is all too easy to complain and blame the educational system or the school authorities for the mind numbing chore of course planning. Of course it won’t be possible to change this situation in the short term, but in the meantime we cannot remain arm-crossed but we must find ways in which course planning can actually add to our continuing professional development.
One basic rule to start planning is to identify real, achievable outcomes, not just in terms of language development but also of learning strategies. Most teachers focus on the structure and lexis that students need to learn, but ignore how they can gain new knowledge in a more effective way that can be useful when facing more complex language. For instance, having students practise language in realistic conversations not only requires us to focus on the language needed but also on how to control this type of situations (how to start or end one, how to keep it going, what intonation patterns invite turn-taking, etc.)
Another important rule is to allow for unforeseen events organised by schools (excursions, celebrations, performances) by allotting enough time for content and activities. Furthermore, the reasons for these events could be integrated into the plan so that, for example, if the school decides to hold a Talent Show/ Open House/etc., the contents and skills developed could serve as a basis for the activity to be held.
Although following these two rules may seem even more demanding and time-consuming, we must think about the long-term consequences: if Teacher A simply copy-pastes from scope and sequence in order to complete all the paperwork while Teacher B makes an effort to conscientiously determine goals, processes and outcomes, which of them will be investing in their professional profile? Which of them will be equipped with better methodological resources? Which of them will improve their career prospects?
All in all, it’s our mission to transform this daunting paperwork into something useful and flexible which will not constrain our teaching but guide it throughout the school year.
Now, it’s YOUR turn
Do you think planning is a vehicle for professional development?
Mayra Yaranga (1985) Doctor in Education (UNIFÉ); Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London) revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education - UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada - IPNM. Currently she is Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.