Did They Really Love That Lesson as Much as You Think?

In my first semester beat, I’m exploring the life-saving power of routines–but not just any routines. I’m talking about routines that make life easier, more efficient, and more familiar–even in the most daunting of times (cough, 2020, cough). I’m talking about routines that allow students to thrive whether you are teaching in person, virtually, hybrid, or anything else under the sun. Routines are a compass that can keep us from getting lost in unfamiliar landscapes. Routines are anchors that keep our boats from floating away during the storm. Routines build good instincts so that when the fledglings leave the nest, they soar.

This semester, I’m exploring routines because, as the old Beatles title reminds us, “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

Awesome Lesson, But…Did It Work?

After 14 years of teaching, the list of things that trigger is long. When a teacher speaks of students as being “High” or “Low”…oh, it makes my skin crawl. Or when we’re in professional development, and a teacher says, “This would never work with MY kids.” Just thinking about it makes me grind my teeth–and I bet it has a similar effect on you!

Today, though, I want to talk about a lesser-known trigger:

“I taught _____, and my kids LOVED it!”

Really? Every single kid in your room LOVED your lesson? And how do you know that their “love” for your lesson translates into solid learning? How does your perception of their love prove that the lesson was…effective?

Now, before I go any further, I’m sure I have been guilty of each of these things that now trigger me to no end. That’s probably why teacher-triggers bother us, right? We see a bit of our former selves in our trigger-ers. This is all to say, I’m not trying to be self-righteous and grumpy with this post (I don’t have to try; it comes naturally). I just want to provoke more teachers to rethink whether students really “LOVED” the lesson and, more importantly, to hold off on sharing until they can show that the lesson was actually effective–aka students leveled up their work in a tangible way, and maybe even transferred what was taught to a new situation.

So, in this post, I’m going to share a simple routine that has helped me see whether that lesson my students “LOVED” was also effective.

How Did The Lesson (which you just LOVED) Affect Your Plan?

Last semester I taught a virtual class (English 101) for college freshman at a technical college. Because many of my students endure difficult living situations, we’d decided as a department to not require students to unmute their screens, which meant that, most of the time, I felt like I was teaching into a pitch black void.

So, at the end of each week, I displayed each mini-lesson as if it were an anchor chart. Then, I asked students to type into a shared Google Doc which strategy(ies) they planned on using the most in their work today.

In other words, how did that lesson that my class just LOVED affect they’d be approaching their work?

After students filled it out, I used this document to decide who I’d confer with first (I put each student in their own Zoom breakout room, and I’d pop in for one-on-one conferences). When conferring, I’d ask students how they were using the lesson in they’d shared at the beginning of class. When they told me, asked them to show me where. If the student was nailing it, I invited them to try a new strategy with the rest of their time. If the student struggled, I retaught, using my own writing as an example.

At the end of work time, I asked students to paste into a shared Google Doc (or Padlet, Google Slide Deck, etc.) a section of their work that showed how they used one of the lessons in their work that day.

This simple approach to having students make their plans visible gave me valuable insights that I could use in each phase of the process. It also let me know which students were disengaged and needed some re-teaching.

How Did That Lesson You Loved Affect Your Revision?

I remember what it was like to be a student in a college English class. I can’t tell you how many writing classes I took where my first draft was identical to my final draft, but run through a spell check.

And yet! Like all adults, I am now an incredible hypocrite! We all become what we once despised! Or maybe I just want students to feel the pride that comes with really well-crafted piece? Maybe I want students to experience something akin to a real writing process? Probably all of the above, if I’m honest.

At any rate, if it’s important enough for me to teach, I want to see that what I taught stuck with students and helped them in some way. So, I’d do something similar to the planning routine I mentioned earlier. I’d share the list of revision skills we’d learned in this unit and the ones before it, and I’d ask students to think about what their piece needs today.

Then, they’d type their revision priorities into a shared Google Doc…

As they started revising–I’d look over the list for red flags. To me a red flag was not just the student who chooses what, in my opinion, might be the wrong revision move. It could also be the student who took on a strategy that is more complex, or it could be a student who’d shared the same revision strategy each time we’d done this lesson. This Google Doc approach was gold for me because it let me know who to prioritize, and it also let me know which lessons were sticking with students.

There’s so much data that we are asked to use, but this is the kind of data that helps me grow student learning–and grow my own teaching. Moreover, imagine the impact it would have if one of your class routines was asking students to reflect on how they were using your teaching?

It Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

Nothing I’ve shared in any of my posts is at all complicated. Every routine I write about is just a small tweak that almost any teacher could implement right away. This one’s no exception. Think of all the ways you can, in a nonthreatening way, collect information that could help you zero in on who to work with next–and whether that lesson that everyone LOVED was as engaging as you thought.

It can be as simple as an exit slip that asks, “Which lesson this week is having the biggest impact on your writing?” or “Which lesson this week is the least likely to help you?”

Data doesn’t have to always be something you spend hours poring over. It can be something you look at for 90 seconds as students settle into their work.

And who knows? If we all take a bit of time to gather this kind of data, in our next staff meeting, when you tell me, “My kids just LOVED this lesson,” and I start to get triggered…well, maybe you’ll have the goods to back it up.

How do you assess the quality of your own lessons? How do you help students to own their learning? I’d love to know! Leave me a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter @MrWteach. You can also participate in the Moving Writers Facebook group: facebook.com/movingwriters.


  1. As always I love this. We have been using the strategy of kids Annotating their “Moves” (Mini-Lessons Craft moves) in a different coloured font. That way, especially with remote (in Canada it hasn’t been as extensive), our kids learn how to ask for SPECIFIC feedback. And we can see if our lessons are being applied. That’s also where we like to use Don Graves “Nudge Papers” idea. (the “we” I refer to is because I mentor many teachers and I have written extensively for them in an on-line ebook, “Choice and Voice”)

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