Lesson plans and unit structure are great. They give consistency and context to the classroom. They allow topics that take days or weeks to cover to be connected. they keep us on track. Without them, curriculum would be chaotic and quality learning would suffer.
Sometimes though things happen that are not in the lesson plan and may not even relate to what is being currently taught, but are worthy of our focus–the all-important teachable moment. I know well the pressures that can be placed upon a teacher to keep pace and shy away from things that are not in the day’s lesson plans (see Freedom in the Classroom Part One), but teachable moments are incredibly valuable educational resources that should not be wasted and that teachers should be free to embrace. Today I honor said moments with a top five list.
Five Reasons to Embrace the Teachable Moment
5. Teachable moments are current. We all try to keep our lessons relevant to our students’ lives. This can be easier at some times than at others, but when a teachable moment occurs, it is what is currently happening in your classroom, community, or world. This gives relevancy in a way that isn’t there when one covers Shakespeare or commas or MLA format.
4. Teachable moments are where your students’ focus is anyway. We all know how hard it can be to keep our students’ focus. When they are distracted by something that is a teachable moment, embrace and use that distraction. The interest level is already built in!
3. Teachable moments teach that flexibility can be a positive. It is important to remember that the simple act of stepping away from the planned lesson of the day is a lesson in and of itself. Teaching your students that sometimes important things present themselves and should not be ignored even if they are not convenient or what you had planned to do is it valuable life lesson.
2. Teachable moment are often chances that present themselves only once. I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. (See below if you are unfamiliar with it.) Don’t miss that important opportunity, that fork in the road, that path less traveled, because you are afraid of deviating from your lesson plan. Give yourself the freedom to take an opportunity when it presents itself. Think about if it is something you will regret not using. If the answer is yes or even maybe, don’t squander the moment. You may never have it again.
1. Teachable moments are often about important life lessons. I firmly believe that as teachers it is our job to teach more than just what differentiates a common versus proper noun or why you multiply before you add. It is our job to teach basic humanness. Teachable moments often offer in spades the opportunity to teach empathy or responsibility or one of so many other important parts of being a good human.
In a few weeks there is going to be a partial/total eclipse that will be visible across the entire continental United States. If you are in school and if you are in the Continental United States, go out and see it even if you are not a science teacher. This is not something that happens often and your students will be distracted by it anyway. You can use the lead-up or post eclipse time as a chance to teach research skills or journaling skills or whatever else strikes your fancy.
If there is a fight in the hallway or on the play ground (they do occasionally happen at all ages and grade levels), don’t try and sweep it under the rug. You know it is what your students are thinking about. Use the fight as a chance to talk about conflict resolution or what to do when someone makes you so angry you want to lash out. (Looking for more ways to talk about these sort of things…check this out!)
When tragedy strikes (i.e. a student has a parent killed in a car accident or the neighboring community had a tornado go through), consider not just continuing on like any other day. Use the tragedy as a moment to teach empathy, concern for others, and giving of time and talent. Talk about grief or fear. Discuss what your students can do. Maybe organize a donation program or make cards. What you do will depend on the ages of your students, but don’t waste a moment if there are important life lessons to teach.
With all this in mind, I encourage you to give yourself the freedom to occasionally deviate from curriculum and the all-mighty lesson plan and embrace the teachable moment!
I’d love to hear from some of you about teachable moments in your own classroom! Feel free to share in the comments below!
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This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher: How can you balance the need to cover curriculum with utilizing teachable moments? Do you do a good job of it? What is one teachable moment you did a particularly good job of utilizing?
For the student: How do you know when a moment is important in life? What makes a moment important? How do important moments affect you?
A Recipe from My Kitchen:
Four-Grain Pancakes with Nuts
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup corn meal
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 6 tablespoons sugar (white, raw, or brown)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
- 1/2-3/4 cup chopped nuts, toasted (walnuts, pecans, and almonds are all very nice)
- 1 3/4 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
- 3 large eggs
- Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl (flour-nuts in the list above).
- Mix wet ingredients together installer bowl (milk-eggs in the list above).
- Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
- Pour 1/4-1/2 cup portions onto hot griddle. Once top is speckled with bubbles, flip to cook other side. Both sides should have a nice golden brown color when done.
- Serve with your favorite toppings.