Dual Language SchoolsLesson Planning is a Political Act

Author Photo: Dr. José L. Medina

By: Dr. José L. Medina

Founder and Chief Educational Advocate at Dr. José Medina: Educational Solutions

Even as a novice teacher in the nineties, I was a fierce advocate for equity and social justice. Having just graduated with a master’s degree from New York University, I returned to my hometown of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez ready to positively impact the community that helped to raise me. I decided to do so by serving the students that often were most marginalized in educational settings… students like me.

However, I was not ready for the task at hand.

My undergraduate work had prepared me to serve as a teacher by deepening my content understanding and by adding some tools to my pedagogical tool belt. The graduate work I engaged in, along with student teaching, further pushed me to reflect on what kind of teacher I wanted to be. But, the one thing that escaped me as I traveled on this road was information on how to lesson plan through an equity and social justice lens.

I had the heart, the desire, and the willingness to create an inclusive educational community where my students would feel welcome. Without really knowing how, I knew that I had to create lessons that not only informed, but also, inspired the students in my care. I instinctively understood that lessons had the power to dismantle the systems of oppression that marginalized language learners, students of color, and those who required special education support. Schools, I had learned in university, were established to promote and strengthen a white monocultural and monolingual lens. How I would be able to advocate, disrupt, and lesson plan for equity and social justice was not yet a part of my educational understanding.

During one of my first professional development workshops, I was informed that I would be lesson planning via the Madeline Hunter Lesson Planning Template.

Don’t get me wrong; I was grateful to have any type of lesson planning support. It made sense to start off lessons with an anticipatory set in order to engage students in the learning. Objectives, even then, were an important next step. Inputting knowledge “into” students was the next recommendation, while also modeling for them was imperative. Checking for understanding, providing guided and then, independent practice was also important. And finally, we would need to plan for closure so that we could all reflect on what was taught.

I learned to follow the steps of the Hunter Lesson Plan. I used them as a way to ensure that my students understood how much knowledge I was sharing with them. My administration seemed impressed with how good I was at not only at writing lesson plans, but also, that I seemed to have a knack for getting students excited about the learning. I was deemed a good teacher.

And yet, as I look back on over 25 years as an educator, I wish I knew then what I know now.

Lesson planning is a political act. If we design lessons via a monolingual and monocultural lens, we become the oppressors.

Photo for: Supporting Sustainability; Implementing Effective Dual Language Programming

What? I was not the oppressor!

I was a strong teacher. My evaluations all showed that I was a proficient, competent educator who made strong connections with students. I was engaging. I was animated. The students enjoyed being in my classroom. I used the Madeline Hunter Lesson Planning Template!

What I realize now is that I was all of those descriptors. But, I also have to acknowledge that by lesson planning in the way that I did, without an overt focus on student ownership of the learning, void of targeted and specific linguistic support, and by not openly articulating to students that our duty was to learn content and language as a means to defy institutionalized systems that exclude some communities, I was in fact, supporting and not dismantling the oppressive educational system that guided my work.

Today, I am a dual language educator. Facilitating instruction for students, teachers, administrators, families, and school communities is what I do. But, embracing the fact that via lesson planning we can change the world, is something that every teacher and administrator must do. So, what does this type of lesson planning look like?

Lesson planning must be viewed as the political tool it can be, in order to create more equitable and inclusive educational communities. It must also:

  • Include specific content, language, and culture learning targets that are fully understood and leveraged by students as a way to deepen their learning.
  • Connect with and value students’ linguistic and cultural repertoires.
  • Align with the idea that the learning process is an equal collaboration between facilitator and student.
  • Create spaces for authentic student voice via meaningful and robust dialogue.
  • Include considerations for varied students’ needs.
  • Ensure that students are actively engaged in sociocultural competence and critical consciousness work through the integration of language and content.

Only by seeing our lesson planning as the vehicle to creating a world where students will be better equipped to empathize, honor, and serve one another, can we truly begin to leverage the power of lesson facilitation via a social justice lens.

To the thousands of students I have served in my career, know that I did the best I could with the pedagogical tools I had available at the time. It is my hope that even through my shortcomings, you felt my heart and saw my desire to value you and all of the gifts you brought into our shared space each day. I am forever changed by each and every one of you.