A few weeks ago, in a very informal situation I met a teacher who had attended one of my talks at Disal a while ago and she approached me with some questions about lesson planning. She very generously shared her concerns with the activities she usually chose, how fun they were, the homework to assign, the linguistic aims of the lesson, the tests that would come. There was something about the enthusiastic way she was talking that made me very interested in listening, she has been teaching for over 15 years and she is passionate about what she does. She mentioned all the technical concerns, the variety of tasks proposed and approaches chosen and concluded saying she had no more ideas how to help her students learn.

That is what happens to most of us when teaching: we start with what, how, sometimes why, but hardly ever who. We have an objective for the lesson – a grammar point, new vocabulary, a function, and skills to focus on – but how meaningful is it to the learners? Or how do we help them perceive the advantage of this new lesson? In the teaching-learning scenario, the only element that cannot be missing is the learner. Without students, there is no teaching, there is no use for the brilliant lesson plans and materials we are often so passionate about. Without books, technology, cutouts, songs, whatever our favourite resources are, there is always a solution when they are not available. Without students we simply cease to exist and our job is meaningless. And that was where the conversation headed: the learners.

If the question is where to start planning a lesson once we have tried so many different things and not many have worked as expected lately, perhaps we really need to look at the learners as the heart of the matter. Who are they? What are their goals? What are their expectations? What do they already know? How do they interact with others? How do they relate to the materials and tasks already used and proposed? Considering the learners above all else when planning a lesson, we seem to have greater chances of succeeding in what we propose. Teaching the learners you have to do something with the language, to use the language in relevant contexts is a different perspective from teaching a grammar lesson to a group.

Jackson (2009) defends that ‘we should reshape our approach to instruction so that we capitalize on students’ currencies’. That impacts lesson planning and delivery in a different manner, probably producing different results and impact in the lesson and students’ engagement and production. However, it also means that ‘recipes’ and ready-to-use activities add to our teaching repertoire, but demand more reflection upon their advantages to the specific learners we are teaching. Such concern for the learners in the centre of lesson planning is what makes us better and better; it is what pushes us towards promoting learning in various ways; it is what helps us innovate in the classroom in search for better ways of helping learners. Great teaching starts with a passion for learning and focus on learners. What do you think?

Jackson, R. R. (2009) Never Work Harder than your Students. Alexandria: ASCD.