When a Lesson Flops

Updated: Jul 14

Is it sad to say I feel like an expert in this area? Haha. Let me first begin by saying, just because a lesson "fops" doesn't mean you did anything wrong. Sometimes a lesson flops because of something you could have done better at. However, I would argue that most of the time a lesson "flops," it's due to circumstances beyond your control.

Let's start by identifying the reasons, I personally believe, a lesson can flop. Here a few...

1. The teacher didn't give enough time for the concept to "sink in" or "click."

I get it, there are always a million concepts to cover. There's always so little time and so much to do. However, anytime that I rush through material, just to get it done, I end up kicking myself later. Practice the new concepts with students multiple times. Model it, use guided practice, use group practice, use independent practice, more independent practice, and then quiz them over the material. And if that doesn't work, repeat those steps until it starts to click. I have to constantly remind myself of the fact that what seems "easy" to me might not be easy for them.

2. There isn't enough prior knowledge from the students for them to take the next step.

We never know what students have mastered and what they haven't. Each student comes with their own unique background of learning. It's impossible to fill all of the gaps. The further along students have been pushed through the system of education, the more difficult the gaps become. The only real solution I have for this is to do a pre-test/pre-survey for each unit/concept you're introducing. It's not a foolproof plan, however, it does help you have a better understanding of what step you should take next. I'll share more about this on number six below. ;)

3. The students simply are tired/burnt out from other classes (or outside circumstances) beyond your control.

Lessons can flop because of how exhausted your students are from their other classes. Why do you think it becomes more difficult to maintain their attention, as the day progresses? First, they're tired from probably sitting all day and being expected to do every little thing in each class. Second, you're exhausted from teaching by the end of the day and your patience is probably lower than it was the first period. Give yourself extra grace to the classes at the end of the day. No one is perfect. Also, we have no idea what students are carrying when they come into class. What happened on the drive school? What happened the night before? What text did they just receive? All of those outside circumstances are beyond our control, so don't expect each day to be perfect. A lesson might flop because of what's going on in their brains that we cannot physically see. Give yourself and them endless grace.

4. The lesson was too large to be taught in the time frame given.

This is another major reason a lesson might flop. Students might need more time than you anticipated. It's ok to adjust your plans when you see them needing more time in a class period. Make the adjustments and review in the areas needed.

5. The concepts taught were not of interest to students, creating a lack of buy-in from them.

Ok, not every single lesson is going to be a thrilling adventure. However, there are ways to create a better sense of buy-in from students. If you are dreading teaching the content, they'll be able to tell and will dread learning it. It's alright to be honest with students, but it's also ok to hide behind fake excitement for the wellbeing of everyone. A lesson will flop if you're not making the material slightly interesting to them. It will be like pulling teeth, I guarantee it. Try your best to set yourself, and your students, up for success.

6. There was no pre-assessment given to gauge prior knowledge and students 1. have no understanding at all 2. have already mastered the concept and the teacher is "wasting their time."

As I stated above, understanding their prior knowledge is the key to avoiding a flopped lesson. The best way I have found to do this is through a pre-assessment. Sometimes I will give out my post-test to students before even beginning the unit. You can avoid phrasing it as a test, to avoid creating panic. But make sure they know it's going to help you have a better understanding of what they know. I even share with students that if they do well, we can skip some of the work we might have to do. Sharing this with them usually gets them excited. If students show mastery on a pre-test, I will skip the content completely. What I taught with a group before, in a year prior, might not be necessary with another. Don't waste your time, or theirs, with the material they already know. If students already have an understanding, this can easily cause a lesson to completely flop.

7. It was just a weird day with behaviors that took away from actually teaching anything. E.g. If there's a fight in the hallway before class, I can try as much as I want but sometimes it just isn't happening that day.

These are the unavoidable days; they will happen. I always try to keep things "on track," as much as possible but sometimes it just doesn't happen. Use those times to have other teachable, life conversations. It's ok if it's not on the lesson plan, welcome to the world of education.

8. The lesson had too many steps that made students get confused or feel overwhelmed.

Bite-size chunks work the best for any student. If there are too many steps, your lesson can easily flop. Break things down, so students don't get overwhelmed. If you have 10 steps to a lesson, they're probably going to get lost along the way. Or they'll stop trying completely because they have fallen far behind everyone else.

9. The classroom atmosphere might not be able to handle that type of lesson.

In my first year out of college, I subbed for two pregnant ladies in the same district (click here to read about my less than traditional adventures through education). One of the classes was a junior level English course. During one of the last periods of the day, there was a group of students who did not get along with each other. They were basically split down the middle; half the class was in one friend group and the other half was a different group.

The teacher I was subbing for told me, "They cannot handle group discussion because they argue and get mad at each other/out of control." She also told me, "Due to the class dynamics, they work the best when you do direct instruction and independent practice (no talking)." I was naive and tried to prove her wrong. Haha. Needless to say, I quickly learned she was right. It's ok to have your classroom be structured the same way every single day. She told me, "It's ok to skip 'fun' activities/lessons with them because they cannot handle it. I've tried making them earn fun lessons and they just cannot do it." There is absolutely no shame in handling a classroom like this. Is it ideal for learning? No. However, it was ideal for the classroom atmosphere.

If you try something with one period and it bombs, but then you try in another class and it excels that is ok. Not every group will work the same way as others. There is nothing wrong with doing "fun" things with some groups that can handle it and having a more basic structure with others.

10. The teacher used the first class as a guinea pig, learned from mistakes, and should circle back the next day to that first group.

This is bound to happen in the first class you teach of the day, especially when you haven't taught the concept in a while. As I stated above, give yourself grace and reinforce any areas the next day. Every teacher usually has that "guinea pig" class that they are experimenting on and then making adjustments. That's all is just a part of teaching. If you don't adjust, then you're making a mistake. Learn what went wrong, or could be changed, and why. Then make the changes for your next batch of students.

I hope these tips are helpful and reminded you that we're all human. Every single teacher has lessons that completely flop, for one reason or another. It will happen; I promise. Try not to be too hard on yourself or your students. It's not always unicorns and butterflies in any classroom, especially not mine. Avoid comparing yourself to what you see from teachers on social media; it's often the highlights. If someone looks like they have it all together, I can promise you they don't. If you need to unfollow, do it! Don't let comparison rob you of your sense of joy.

And if no one told you recently, you're crushing it. :)


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