Piloting the ESSR: Expecting the Unexpected

February 26, 2019

In fact, no matter how experienced at creating and piloting teaching materials you are, every class is a whole new adventure. The pupils might have very different social and cultural backgrounds. The kids might have difficult relationships among themselves. Or they might have just come back from a gym class exhausted, or just be unwilling to participate in what you hoped would be a fun and witty lesson plan!

So, creating  didactically and methodologically well-thought material is all well and good, but to make it actually work, it has to have another element: enough space for improvisation. Obviously, timing is a key factor here – there should be a time reserve big enough for the classes of brainy kids who just keep asking questions. On the other hand, a good lesson plan should contain just the right amount of tasks and questions so that it fills up the whole lesson without exhausting the students.

One example for all: we’ve piloted our lesson plan on elections with 12-13 year-old kids. It seemed that this was one of the very first occasions where they really thought about the topic and got familiar with it. Our lesson on the experience of state socialism quickly turned into a civic education class, with pupils slowly developing an understanding of the topic through debate. The lesson plan, which was meant to cover just one class of 45 minutes, eventually took up two entire school hours. But neither we nor the teacher saw it as a failure on the part of the lesson plan — on the contrary. While the rest of the piloting went as we expected and our material usually fit into 45 minutes classes, in this particular case, it proved to be able to work even in very different arrangements and even under a different focus (that of civic education).

Also, one variable is the teachers themselves. After all, it’s natural. They know their classes best, they’re no strangers to all the tricks their students generally pull, and they’re also familiar with how the class usually responds. Thus, one of the teachers shifted from the dramaturgy of the class we’d suggested in our guidelines and, instead of dividing the class into the groups for just one activity, he split all the students from the very beginning. Moreover, he introduced a game that the students played alongside our lesson plan. This way, he managed to activate the class and draw their attention immediately.

And why not. In the end, it’s the teacher and his or her class that matter the most.