Planning Effective Lessons

The TEAL online course on Effective Lesson Planning that I facilitated for LINCS just ended last week. Participants in this course shared some lesson planning strategies that they have found to be successful. These strategies include ways to ensure that students…

(1) are involved in the process of setting learning objectives, and

(2) have a clear understanding of where the class is headed.

The online course encourages teachers to employ the principle of backward design in planning lessons; this means that the lesson designer begins with the objectives of a lesson—what students are expected to learn and be able to do—and then proceeds “backward” to create learning experiences to achieve those objectives. Backward design helps teachers create lessons that are focused on the goal (learning) rather than the process (teaching).

The dilemma for many adult education programs, especially those in which teachers do not receive reimbursement for planning time, is that teachers cannot afford to devote a lot of time to lesson planning in which they consider the diverse needs of their students. Instead, they allow the textbook to guide instruction.

I invite you to share your thoughts on any of the following questions:

  1. Have you used backward design to plan lessons? If ‘yes,’ what have been your successes in using backward design?
  2. Do you have specific strategies for involving students in the process of setting learning objectives? If so, please share your strategy and how students respond to having a voice in this process.
  3. How can we encourage more adult education teachers to do lesson planning for their classes instead of relying on the generic syllabus set forth in the class textbooks?

Thanks for your interest!    


Thank you, Mary Ann. I hope that your questions will encourage many others to share their practices relating to effective lesson planning!

1. If you don't know where you are going, how do you know when you get there? :) Backward design implements forward planning. It's the only way to go, starting with setting a goal and stating the related objectives that lead directly to assessing the process of reaching it!   2. Students and teachers sometimes benefit from thinking of planning to reach a trip destination or completing the process of building a house. In building a house, for example, the goal is very measurable: to erect a house that meets specifications. The objectives provide the visible/measurable steps that need to be taken to complete the house: the foundation, the frame, the walls, the roof, and other major items that go toward finishing  the house. Objectives state "what" not "how" or "when." What can be observed in the process of reaching a goal? Learning how to build the parts of the house is not an objective. Understanding how to pour a foundation is not an objective. Being able to frame a house is not an objective. Reading about how to set a roof is not an objective. To pour the house foundation, to frame the building, to set the roof, those are objectives. Objectives are steps that can be assessed or evaluated in the process of meeting a goal, which is what becomes clearly evident at the end.    3. Perhaps having AE teachers observe and evaluate each other more often using specific guidelines would help. Providing very simple models of good plans that don't include a lot of verbiage might encourage more to adopt the practice. So many models handed down from high towers of academic environments go on, and on, and on, using convoluted language that frightens even the best of us. Lessons should be planned for students in very simple language. Objectives should be written for students in very simple language. Rubrics should be written for students in very simple language. Lesson plans should not be designed to please publishers or university professors. They should please and engage the student. That's it! I believe that once teachers can experience models that are very easy and simple to produce, they will want to plan more that way.   Leecy

Mary Ann and Leecy,

Thank you for opening up this discussion about involving students in the process of setting learning objectives and goals.  Leecy, you said it well in your response to #1.  It is impossible to reach a goal if one has not been set.  Additionally, students need to be involved in the process of how they will reach their goal, what obstacles they may encounter while working towards their goal, and how to self-evaluate progress or lack of progress, and how to make adjustments accordingly.  This involves not only the content being taught, but also problem-solving skills and critical thinking.  The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) is designed to “enable teachers to support students to become more effective at initiating and self-regulating action toward goal setting and attainment.”

So, this a lot to put on the plate of adult educators who mostly work part time.  It seems we have many more responsibilities now than ever to prepare our students for their next steps towards post-secondary learning opportunities and/or careers.  The sharing of ideas that provide successful instructional strategies, as teachers did in Mary Ann’s course, is a great way for adult educators to use their very limited planning time.  Additionally, next month Jeff Goumas will lead a discussion that will revolve around how to effectively integrate free and open education resources cataloged by CrowdED Learning within the SkillBlox platform.  This will be another wonderful opportunity for adult educators with little or no planning time to easily access resources.  This will allow more opportunities for instructors to plan for involving students in the process of setting objectives and goals.

I look forward to this continued discussion about lesson planning and goal-setting.  Please continue to share your thoughts on the questions Mary Ann originally posted.


This is a great conversation, but I want to approach this from a different angle and get some feedback. In the discussion we champion the idea that you can't get to a goal attainment unless you have a goal. I completely agree. However, I have found students may have unrealistic goals. I will never forget the popularity of the procedural show CSI when it came out and my students all wanted to be CSI agents, but did not want to study biology and chemistry.  Or, the students who are reading at a 3rd grade reading level and they want to obtain their HSE in a matter of weeks. 

How do we have difficult conversations with students and help them create realistic goals, or how do we redirect their goals into something more realistic? Or, should we even judge what is realistic? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts and examples. 

Kathy Tracey


Kathy, I've found that most people don't consciously set goals unless they have a project in mind, and even then...   I love Alfred Adler's description. Unlike Freud, who believed that we were designed by our past experiences, Adler proposed that we were consciously or unconsciously driven by our goals, and that goals can change. He believed that "we are not merely living life in a “cause and effect” manner (if X happened, then Y must happen later) or on a set course toward an immobile goal; we have choice, and things can change along the way as we pursue our ideals." (Alfred Adler’s Personality Theory and Personality Types, Journal Psyche,   My approach has been to involve students in a discussion of how we are goal driven. Sometimes, we are driven by a negative goal (I'll never succeed) without realizing it. Students often can describe patterns in their lives to show that trend or the opposite (I'm really creative).    Goals are not dreams. They are destinations that our students can set for themselves with a lot of help from us. Instead of "difficult," those conversations can be delightful.   There is much advice out there on how to set goals. One of the most popular is SMART. We need to interpret those five caps with students so that they can grasp the process, but it would be a start: There are many other sites describing and illustrating SMART. Goal setting is a process that changes expression as students define themselves in better and better ways. Leecy


We definitely need to have conversations with our students about goal setting.  It is not just a matter of asking, "What's your goal?"  Nor is it checking off a goal selection box on an intake form.  This takes me back to the SDLMI, where goal setting takes place in three phases.  Phase one supports students through a problem-solving sequence to set a goal.  Phase two a problem-solving sequence to develop a plan of action to achieve the goal defined in phase one, which includes a self-monitoring process.  Finally, phase three guides the student through a problem-solving sequence to use the self-monitoring data to self-evaluate progress towards the goal. At each phase there is a teacher - student discussion.  This all helps students understand your comment, "Goals are not dreams."

SMART goal setting is also a great way to help students set realistic goals.  I love the video you supplied!  

No matter which process we use to help our students set realistic goals, I think the most important aspect is that we have discussions with students at each step of the way.  

This is a great discussion!  Let's keep it going!


Students often have unrealistic career goals due to lack of exposure. They all suddenly want to be forensic scientists because of CSI, or in my experience, half the class wants to be nurses, because they've seen nurses and (think they) know what nurses do and have heard they make good money. This is why it's important to do career exploration activities in class - in part for the students who do not yet have career goals, and in part for the students who are certain they want to be lawyers or forensic scientists or nurses, but don't in fact know much about those careers, or what it takes to prepare for them. As they research the careers - I like to use the website, Mynextmove, they find out how much training is required, how much math is required, and how competitive it is, and may consequently change their mind and begin to explore goals that are more within their reach, their commitment level or more closely aligned with their interests. The NYSED/CUNY CareerKits are filled with career exploration activities that can help students get a realistic sense of what their dream career is really like. 



You are so right, Ellen!  Students often set themselves up for failure because they don't look beyond simply setting the goal.  Thank you for posting these websites.  Both are great resources for  instructors and students to use in exploring and preparing for career goals.