Saving A Lesson Gone Bad

With experience I get better, but I don’t get perfect. What do you do when a lesson starts to go sour? This could mean that students really don’t catch on to the task or language point, or just don’t like the activity.

If students seem not to get it, it could be that my instructions weren’t clear or I didn’t clarify something well. Even if that is the problem, I’m still faced with the same dilemma: what to do when I realize that in class?

a) keep going as planned?
b) stop in the middle, apologize, and play a game?
c) speed it up and do it with as little pain as possible
d)cut it short but try to do it better another way the next day?
e) end class early?

There isn’t a right answer of course, though some of those options are probably better than others in a given context.

My own response quite logically depends on my job responsibilities.

My showing of Bridget Jones bombed badly, and I ended up just cutting down on the spot the lesson I’d painstakingly planned. Sometimes, like with this lesson from hell, I tell students: I’m sorry. This is actually awful. Let’s just try and get through it as quickly as we can. We’ll aim for 15 more minutes. At some point, I quit trying to convince them in earnest that the grammar point or book is brilliant. Alex Case had the question – do you criticize the book in front of students?

In cases where I’ve felt students feel strongly about covering what is in the book they paid for, I did tend to give a reason if we skipped something substantial. Maybe not an outright criticism but some explanation.

I’ve had a few activities where one cantankerous student basically refused to participate. Other people were vocal that they wanted to do it, and we did. Even today I feel bad about this. I do think a teacher should aim to find activities that don’t…make students angry. But there are many different things I think about during a lesson…

– using time wisely or efficiently in general
– getting students to use the language
– getting students to use the language with a decent amount of accuracy
– ensuring that students speak
– keeping teacher talk time down
– making sure students have enough practice with the material they will be tested on
– covering what is in the book students are required to buy appropriately, if not in minute detail
– ensuring that students enjoy the lesson
– ensuring that students themselves feel they’ve learned something

When I’m planning I make the best call I can. Then I respond to what happens in class on the spot, and of course not all students react the same way. I have heard the maxim (and in an English textbook, no less, so it must be true!) that effective managers stick to decisions, or at least don’t make it look like they are backing down. In class I try to be responsive and not authoritative, so if I “back down”, I’d make a point of conveying that I did it to respond to student wishes, rather than that I had decided I was wrong.

What do you do when you suddenly realize it’s not working?