How much razzle dazzle should teachers plan in lessons?

Is keeping students on the edge of their seats the answer to effective learning? Not if they're excited about the wrong things, says Grainne Hallahan

teacher planning

"Razzle dazzle 'em!" That's the advice of superstar lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. 

Sure, he was telling female murder suspects how to avoid a prison sentence, but when I was a new teacher, his words ran around my head every time I planned an observation lesson.

I thought I had to give those kids (and, of course, the observer), a bit of the ol' razzle dazzle in order to get a grade one. And often, I was right. But I was also wrong.

My observers indeed expected all-singing, all-dancing lessons. But that didn't help my students learn what I wanted them to.


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I’m not sorry the lesson gradings have gone, but I am sad that the three-ring circus myth of edu-tainment remains.

The idea that your lesson needs to contain a checklist of 20 different components, or that there needs to be some abstract hook to interest a class in a topic, can leave teachers (particularly those new to the profession) feeling overwhelmed and overworked, as they focus on how to keep their classes interested, rather than how to help them make progress. 

teacher planning

That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate where that thinking comes from. I love the idea that my lessons will excite and exhilarate my students. But we’ve got to get them excited about the right things.

They may well be buzzing because you’ve used a cool video, or served up snacks with your worksheets. But what will they remember from that lesson? Not the topic at hand, I'd bet. 

How to make memories

Making material memorable can sound deathly dull. You have to repeat things, break them down and focus on giving really clear explanations.

There is a big argument for removing stimulus in order to allow students to really understand and process the new information you’re giving them.

No one is advocating for dry, boring lessons. But you’ve got to find the sparkle in the right way.

It isn’t about fancy worksheets mocked up to look like social media pages, but about using your voice and presence to engage your class. It isn’t about forcing analogies between your topic and pop culture, but drawing relevant parallels between current events and your lesson.

And one of the easiest ways to add sparkle is to give a little of yourself to your students. Your own personality and warmth and enthusiasm will give your lessons all the roller coaster excitement you need, so there's no need to go OTT with the razzle dazzle.

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