Thursday, October 2, 2008

Words Matter: What to Call Your Plans for Class

When I first started teaching, I named what I was planning to do “lesson plans.”  When I came back to my document a year later, I thought, “geez, I’m teaching in a university, not a pre-school, and quickly changed the names of all of my documents to “lecture notes.”  While I incorporate a lot of discussion and exercises into my “lecture notes,” I think that the name of the document implicitly raised my fears that I was not providing enough content.  The name of the document itself gave me permission to talk more.  Similarly, my power point “presentations” put pressure on me to present more and engage less.  This phenomenon is ironic since the most successful class I ever taught was the one where my preparation consisted of developing three provocotive questions that would help guide the class discussion – and student participation, learning, and evaluations were incredible. 

Laurie Zimet recently inspired my new mantra, “stop talking to start teaching,” and Linda Cortez previously provided this pearl of wisdom:  “I begin planning each lecture by asking myself what my students are going to do.”  I’m now reconsidering if I shouldn’t rethink what I call my class plans.  “Lesson plans” or “learning objectives and activities” or “action plan” might do.  I’m not sure what I’m going to call them yet, but one thing is certain, I’m not going to call them “lecture notes” or “presentations.”  Words matter.

Guest contributor Hillary Burgess
Assistant Professor of Academic Support
Hofstra Law School

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