3 ways lesson planning is like following a recipe

Do your students eat up your lessons?

Recently, when a friend shared a recipe on Facebook for a pumpkin cheesecake (yum!), it reminded me of the time I tried to make my own cheesecake. I purchased all the ingredients and some new equipment, including that special pan that snaps around the cake. Unfortunately, I missed a step. I did not soften the cream cheese properly. All these years later, I’m recalling myself with four different spoons in the bowl, trying to maneuver my creation and figuring it to be an utter failure. Because I did not want to waste my ingredients, let alone my fancy new bakeware, I pressed on. In the end, the cheesecake was delicious, but the preparation was a bit of a horror story.

Not too long after my attempt to make the cheesecake, I became a teacher (trust me, I’m going somewhere with this). And recently, it occurred to me that lesson planning is like following a recipe.

Like following a recipe, lesson planning …

1. provides order and organization.
Whether you’ve used a recipe before or not, you expect a recipe to contain the following information: necessary supplies and ingredients, a step-by-step set of steps to prepare the ingredients, and a timeline for doing so. By the end, if all goes properly, you’ve created something tasty.

Likewise, whether you’ve used a lesson plan before or not, you can expect it to inform the reader what you plan to teach, how you plan to teach it, methods by which you’ll determine whether your students have learned what you’ve taught, and perhaps steps to prepare for further learning. While each administrator (or school district) might require variations on these steps, there is still a logical order required for someone else to be able to understand what you plan to do during those 42 minutes with your students.

2. reflects care and thought.
For every compliment-worthy dish, we assume that the chef consulted a recipe, did a few dry runs, taste-tested, employed the taste buds of others, reflected, and revised as needed. This demonstrates care and thought in the final product.

Lesson plans should also reflect care and thought, specifically for your students. Just as you want to feel good about a meal, you should want your students to feel good about what they learned that day and want to return to the classroom at another time, too. This requires reflection. If your first execution was a flop, no problem! Reflect on what would need to change for the lesson to be better next time. If you’re worried about experimenting with a new formative assessment, invite someone in and ask for feedback. Many teachers are employing the popular #ObserveMe method: hanging a sign outside of their classroom, inviting people to check out what’s happening inside. By extending this invite, you’re demonstrating that you want feedback and desire perspectives that might help you improve your craft.

3. offers room for improvement.
Both lesson plans and recipes are open to interpretation. You can make one dish and five people will love it because of A, B, and C, and another five people might not enjoy it as much because of A, B, and C. Creative people, such as teachers, tend to take feedback to heart and take it very personally. This does not mean that you did not try your best or that your best was not good enough—just that there is and will continue to be room for improvement. Lesson plans and assessments that made sense for students in 1995 may not make sense in 2019. (Do people still have overhead projectors in their rooms?)

In any regard, it’s important for teachers and educators to be forward thinking, progressive, and willing to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Ever take a look at a colonial cookbook? I dare say no present-day chef or cook is looking to revive those recipes, but they were practical at one time. Times change and thus our methods of providing instruction should change with them. It’s not generally good practice to reuse the same lesson plan year after year, even if you’re teaching the same content. Why? Because you’re not teaching the same kids. Tweak the plan, revisit, revise, and reflect.

Ultimately, a recipe and lesson planning are much more alike than different. As time passes and you become more experienced, you may rely less on a recipe or lesson plan, but they are necessary when you set out to share your craft.

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