The White Paper on Lesson Planning

Cliff Schimmels

The study of lesson planning strategies in America begins in the Fourth Century. Christian educators were faced with two problems. They needed to reeducate the adults who had been converted from paganism to Christianity, but at the same time they fostered the rather novel and controversial idea of teaching children. To accomplish this two-fold purpose, educators developed the catechismal method of teaching. They wrote comprehensive text materials that covered using questions in sequential order with detailed answers. Students then memorized both the questions and the appropriate answers with instructional time spent in one on one recitation.

From this beginning, catechismal teaching was the dominant method of education for the next 1,500 years. Its reach was furthered by significant teachers such as Alcuin, chief educator of the Charlemagne Renaissance, who developed volumes of catechismal textbooks.

Drawings of Colonial American classrooms provide a picture of the process. Students sit on their log desks facing the wall dutifully learning (memorizing word for word) their lessons while one boy stands facing the school master seated on a stool holding the stick of motivation. If the student recites the lesson well, he is pleasantly rewarded by not being hit by the stick.

Despite the efforts of such people as Samuel Hall and Hoarce Mann, who developed normal schools for the training of teachers, not much change in instructional process occurred until 1862 when Edward Sheldon, superintendent of schools in Oswego, New York, visited Canada. There he discovered Pestolizzean methods.

With great enthusiasm he began to implement those ideas into the schools in Oswego and developed a normal school to train teachers. Some of his innovations included dividing students into age-specific classes using manipulations, teaching math by taking field trips, and utilizing class recitation rather than individual recitation.

The next major change in lesson planning and instructional process occurred during the 1880’s. When Teacher College, New York City, merged with Columbia University, teacher training for the first time became a college academic endeavor. Professors assigned to the task of teaching teachers scrambled to discover and create materials appropriate for the new academic standards. Historians, not educators, wrote history of education textbooks. Philosophers, not educators, wrote philosophy of education textbooks. (It is important to remember that at this time psychology was still a very young field, so the study of psychology was not as significant in teacher education as it is now.)

One of the two areas of concern for the professors was to find a scientific approach to lesson planning which would not only be useful to their students but also be academic enough to merit scholarly study. They found their answer in 1892 when students of the German Philosopher Herbart introduced his ideas to American professors.

Based on the Herbartian concept of the mind as an appreciative mass, his students developed a five-step lesson plan appropriate for all teachers. It included:

  1. Preparation
  2. Presentation
  3. Association
  4. Generalization
  5. Application

The methods professors note had something to teach and they taught it thoroughly. From 1892 until John Dewey published Democracy in Education in 1916, this plan of American Herbartianism dominated American education. It was not just a possible lesson. It was the lesson plan. Teacher manuals, plan books, and evaluation instruments were all organized around the five-step lesson plan.

During the 1920’s and the 1930’s, as the traditionalists and progressives battled for control of American classrooms, lesson planning became a focal point of the disagreement. Traditionalists still found value in the structure of the five-point plan while the progressives argued that too much planning would destroy the spontaneity that problem solving and inquiry methodology required. The argument continues.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s, another lesson planning technique came into vogue structured around a four step system which included:





This four-step process became popular in teacher plan books. Most teachers essentially, or by necessity, followed this scheme.

During the 1960’s, individualized instruction became the buzzword in American education. Although the idea itself had a rather short life, the principles of behaviorism in lesson planning had been planted. When the pendulum swung abruptly in the early 1970’s from the liberalism of 1960’s to the rigors of accountability, the focus of educational theory shifted to UCLA and the behavioristic spokespersons. Popham and Mager taught the nations teachers to write behavioral objectives. This thrust, combined with the hold over principles of programmed instruction, brought on a short-lived but innovative competency-based approach to lesson planning and instructional strategies.

In the wake that followed this spurt of behaviorism, educators looked again to UCLA for educational practices that would meet the public demands for accountability. During the early days of this shift, the contributions of Madeline Hunter had gone basically unnoticed. They were suddenly discovered in the early 1980’s and Madeline Hunter’s seven-step lesson plan became the Bible for educators around the nation. Veteran teachers learned the structure at inservice. Education students were taught so much Madeline Hunter that they dreamed about it at night. School boards endorsed it, and administrators demanded it. Every lesson had to be organized on seven steps. Teachers were even evaluated on their use of the seven step plans and some veteran teachers were required to be retrained in the seven steps that include:

  1. Anticipatory set
  2. Objectives and purpose
  3. Input
  4. Check for understanding
  5. Modeling, Guided Practices
  6. Independent Practices
  7. Closure

The dimension of this activity was that it in many ways followed the structures and learning principles of the Herbartian Method earlier in this century.

Other organizations and educators borrowed heavily from the Madeline Hunter model to construct a lesson scheme of their own. Thus, in Tennessee, we have the Tennessee Instructional Model (TIM), based on the learning principles of Madeline Hunter but featuring modifications of form.

During the 1990’s, many educators across the nation have moved away from the Madeline Hunter model with their reasons focused in two areas. First, it was misused. Madeline Hunter never intended for her model to be prescriptive. Her intention was to describe what she saw good teachers do. Unfortunately her fans in administration carried in much further then that and made the Seven Steps of Mastery Teaching the requirement of all teaching.

The other criticism of the Madeline Hunter model offered by some is that it is too inflexible. It does not provide opportunities for teacher innovation nor for student spontaneity. Many educators feel that requiring teachers to adhere too closely to any lock step model would squeeze innovation and activities out of the lesson.

This is the status of lesson planning at the turn of the century. Most educators have seen the fallacies of a form which demands certain activities, but they remember the dangers of the open-ended, non-plan days of progressivism.

Thus, we all experiment, explore, and through trial and error attempt to discover the next major movement.