When a Lesson Plan Goes Wrong

When A Lesson Plan Goes Wrong: Becoming Flexible & Adaptable

giraffe with splayed legsLet’s say you’ve crafted a stellar lesson plan you’re certain can’t go wrong. You’ve explained the new skill with crystal clarity, hitting each learning type: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Students have asked predictable clarification questions. They seem like they’re getting it. Everything is going just swimmingly.

Until it isn’t.

At the end of your lesson, you assign a pop quiz, a homework assignment, or an exit ticket. As you assess your students’ understanding, you realize with a punch in your gut… They don’t get it. They aren’t even close.

It’s easy to get frustrated in these moments. You’re supposed to move forward, but you’re stuck until they can grasp this. You want to throw your hands up in defeat, as if all your hard work and preparation was for naught. 


But if you take some deep breaths and a little time to reevaluate, you’ll realize all is not lost. Often, students just need more practice, more time, and perhaps a new perspective.

What You Should Know

Your classroom, your rules on a green and blue backgroundMost importantly, know that you are not a failure. This can happen for a multitude of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with you. So shoo that negative voice right on out of your head. (And hey, even if it did stem from you, that’s simply part of being an educator. As hard as we try, we sometimes miss the mark on instruction. It happens. We are human.) 


Also, you have the freedom to toss those grades out. Let ‘em go! You can rework them as a class if you want. Or you could dump them in the trash can and replace them with another assignment. Or not. Your classroom, your rules.


Oh, and those lesson plans? They’re not set in stone. They can and should be pliable, ever-evolving creatures with room to flex. And while it can be a pain to push things back a day or so, it’ll be worth it. 

Investigate What Went Wrong

It’s important to zoom in on what exactly they’re not getting. Whatever skill or concept is suffering likely just needs some extra practice. 

What about bigger picture moments, like a lower-than-usual class average on a unit test?

magnifying glass on pastel paper

Ask yourself this: Was it a particularly challenging unit, filled with brand-new skills or higher-level concepts? If the grade average is not substantially lower than usual, maybe within 10 points or so, it could just be a reflection of the difficulty level. Totally normal.


If the average is substantially lower – by maybe 15 points or more – you’ll want to dig a little deeper.


Data is key here. Look for trends: Were most of the points lost on a select number of questions? Maybe they were worded in a confusing way. Maybe your key is wrong. (Happens to the best of us.) Or maybe the missed questions address only a handful of skills that can be easily revisited in class. 

Adapt Your Lesson Planning

wooden posable mannequin on green backgroundThere are many ways to move forward from here. Here are just a few ideas:


  • Ask your colleagues for ideas and best practices. We should always be growing as teachers, just like we ask of our students.
  • Use class time to revisit and rework commonly missed items, providing plenty of scaffolding
  • Ask a few students who do get it to explain it to the class in their own words. Sometimes hearing it from a peer’s perspective can be the difference. You could even have them lead groups that work through new items together.
  • Assign new questions that assess the same skills and allow students to complete them for partial credit back to their test grade (akin to test corrections). 
  • A test retake is another option; it puts the ball back in their courts after you’ve provided additional support.

Plan to be Flexible

blue twisted pencil on a pink backgroundBuild an extra day or two into each unit plan for times such as these. If you don’t end up needing the time, you can use it for review or enrichment. Or simply wrap up early and get a jump start on your next unit.

Be on the lookout for misunderstandings during a lesson, especially on new material. You’ll recognize it when you see a mix of confusion and horror among the students. Do a quick assessment to see what’s up and shift your instructional approach. If you can pinpoint the misunderstandings in the moment, you’ll save yourself time and frustration later.

Assess as you go. There are so many ways to seamlessly incorporate quick, informal assessments into your lessons that don’t take a ton of time and can involve zero grading.

If possible, quiz students before you give a larger test to gauge student understanding. Be sure to allow time to give feedback before the test comes around.


Bottom line: teaching involves a good bit of flexibility. Once you adopt that mindset, it frees you up to accept the occasional re-do with the grace and confidence of a pro. The next time a lesson plan goes wrong, don’t sweat – flex and adapt!

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