How do you know if you’ve taught a good lesson?

‘Just had a great lesson!  We all had a lot of fun!’

So there was student engagement and you got a buzz as well?  Yes, that’s very good.  These are both important aspects of a good lesson because they can stimulate motivation, a key ingredient for learning.

Teacher reflection on the success or otherwise of our lessons is an important part of the teaching process.  As well as being aware of student engagement and motivation, we also need to ask:

  • what did the students learn?
  • how do we know that they learned it?
  • how are we going to follow up? (that is, how will we make use of the assessment knowledge that we have gained as a result of this lesson?)

In order to increase our chances of teaching a good lesson, we

  • plan the lesson beforehand. Yes, of course it’s possible for an experienced teacher  to fly by the seat of her pants and still produce a good lesson.  But planning makes success far more likely. It means we know what skills, knowledge or understanding we want the students to have at the end of the lesson, and we’ve thought about the kinds of teaching activities that are most likely to help our students to be successful in their learning.
  • tell the students what it is that they’re going to learn.  There’s plenty of research out there now to support the idea that sharing learning intentions is an important condition for student success.
  • tell the students how they will know if they’ve been successful in their learning.  That is, we provide them with success criteria, and therefore, as  Royce Sadler says,  ‘let them in on the secret’.
  • make sure we’re aware of what students already know and build our lesson around that knowledge. This is likely to involve some differentiated learning in terms of teaching approaches or student activities.
  • provide feedback to students during the lesson. Effective feedback tells students what they have done well and where improvement is needed.  It offers specific advice about how to make that improvement.
  • plan opportunities for peers to provide each other with feedback. Again, the research tells us much about the effectiveness of peer feedback in promoting student learning.
  • plan opportunities for self-assessment to encourage students to reflect on their progress and how they are learning.
  • evaluate what we’ve learned about our students’ skills, knowledge and understanding as a result of this lesson and use that information to shape our future planning.

Yes, teaching is a complex business: there’s a great deal going on before, during and after a good lesson. 

(If you’re interested, you can read more about these aspects of lesson planning in my book Improving Student Achievement, A practical guide to assessment for learning.)