The Benefits of Asking "How Can I Improve This Lesson?"
In my preservice lesson plan reviews, the first question to be answered at the end of the teaching day was always, "How could I improve this lesson?" Knowing I would have to answer that question to the satisfaction of my professors made me very conscious of my teaching and my students' response to it. At the time, I didn't realize that my daily reply to that question would become one of the most useful ways for me to monitor my effectiveness as a teacher.
As a preservice teacher, the dual responsibilities of lesson planning and classroom management were sometimes overwhelming. Lesson plans had to be very detailed. For most subjects, that meant each day's lesson plan was three pages long with step-by-step instructions for implementing the lesson. We were expected to use our lesson plan as a script to ensure that we did not forget any elements of the lesson.
Monitoring student response, assessing their understanding, and pacing my lesson did not come easily for me. So thinking about ways to improve my lessons became the most useful part of my reflection because it forced me to think about teaching and learning from both the teacher's and the students' perspective.
Reflection helped me devise better ways to engage students in the subject matter, and my pacing even improved. I became more acclimated to my students' personalities and their response to my lessons. That key question "How could I improve this lesson?" gave me the impetus to continually monitor my teaching and adjust my lessons to suit the needs of my students.
Journaling a Professional Dialogue
Preservice teachers in my program were also required to keep a journal, a daily log of our thoughts and concerns about the art and science of teaching. My journal served to reinforce and extend my thoughts about improving my lessons. I also benefited from involving my supervising teacher, who also made entries in the journal.
At the beginning of the day, I would hand my journal to her, and while I taught, she logged comments on my teaching and students' response, or she might point out off-task behavior that I missed and suggest ways to deal with it. Many of her entries suggested ways to improve specific sections of my lesson. She included compliments as well.
If I had chance at the end of the school day, I would read her entries and, if necessary, talk to her directly about her comments. Then, after taking time to unwind at home, I would write in my own reflection. I responded to her comments and usually had at least one question I wanted to ask her about my students' reaction to my lesson. The next day she would write her answer to my question in the journal and begin her comments on that day's teaching.
The journal became a dialogue between novice and mentor teachers that increased our communication. It was difficult for us to find time to talk about teaching during the school day, so the journal gave us that opportunity to gather our thoughts and put them in writing. At the end of each week, I would look over our entries, which allowed me to see my progress and reminded me of what I needed to do to improve my teaching.
My initial answers to the review question, "How could I improve this lesson?" were the stepping stones to more in-depth analysis of my teaching that my journal provided. Both exercises helped me see the importance of continuously analyzing my teaching and adjusting lessons to suit the unique mix of students in my classroom.
As a substitute teacher by choice, it gives me confidence in my ability to adapt my instruction to various groups of students in each class. Because of that preservice requirement to reflect on my teaching, I continue to ask, "How could I improve this lesson?"
Alice Kramer graduated from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 2009 with a degree in elementary education and works as a substitute teacher in the Blue Mountain and the Schuylkill Haven Area school districts in Pennsylvania.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 10. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.