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  • Writer's pictureMaia Ramarosandratana

Sticking to the Script! Using Scripted Lesson Plans to Enhance Our Comprehensive Sexuality Education Program


A male Projet Jeune Leader Educator stands in front of a blackboard at a school in Madagascar laughing. He is holding Projet Jeune Leader's scripted lesson plan booklet.


Our Educators taught over 24,000 hours of sexuality education last year.


Our age-segmented curricula, which our Educators teach to 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students through a once-a-week, timetabled class, anchors our comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) program.


Assuring the quality and consistency of teaching across our 148 partner schools is paramount. It’s why we made the decision a few years ago to develop fully scripted curricula. Scripted lesson plans are an approach with champions and detractors worldwide, but in our context, we have seen their proven positive impact on student learning outcomes, adherence to the curriculum, and the motivation of our CSE Educators.


Challenges of Assuring Effective Teaching


We developed our first curricula in 2013. Each lesson plan stated the topic’s key messages in bullet-point form. Then, we offered several options of game-based and interactive activities for the CSE Educator to pick from to transmit the key messages. In other words: we left detailed lesson planning to the CSE Educators.


Sounds pretty standard, right?


Well, after a few years of implementation and evaluation, we found serious limitations to this approach.


Quantitative data collected from adolescent students participating in the course showed vastly disparate learning outcomes. When looking at data from eight of our partner schools, for example, 100% of students in one partner school reported that they understood the day’s lesson “well,” with 0% understanding “somewhat well” and 0% understanding “not at all.” The poorest results from a different school showed that only 29% of students understood the lesson “well,” 39% of students understood the lesson “somewhat well,” and concerningly, 32% of students understood the lesson “not at all.” Results from six other schools showed mixed results in this range.


Despite rigorously training the Educators and providing guidance (e.g., key messages, example activities) in our curricula, our Educators did not all have the same level of teaching ability, comprehension of the content, or motivation.


Course Correction


For a while, we were able to improve Educators’ performance and efficacy through hands-on coaching and supervision. But this was quickly becoming an unsustainable, expensive, and ineffective solution. When we first developed our curricula in 2013, we were working in just four schools, all in the urban area where our office was based. By 2018, we were working in 12 schools. We had plans to triple our reach in the coming years, focusing on rural, hard-to-reach schools. It would be near impossible for a supervisor to assess quality by regularly attending our Educators’ classes.


We clearly needed to change our approach.


After reviewing research about and curricula from other CSE programs around the world, we decided to rewrite our curricula to be fully scripted. Evidence shows that scripted lesson plans improve learning outcomes and focused learning time in the classroom; increase teachers’ adherence to the curriculum; and are particularly effective in low-income countries where teachers receive less training (see Rieth & Evertson, 1998; Malott et al., 2004; Piper, Sitabkhan, et al., 2018; Piper, Simmons Zuilkowski, et al., 2018). A recent study from Madagascar also found that scripted lessons improved student literacy outcomes (Moussa et al., 2024).


Our rewritten lesson plans are now highly detailed and fully scripted. They clearly differentiate what the CSE Educator should say to students, versus the instructions we provide to the Educator. And despite being fully scripted, each lesson plan still includes at least one (usually, multiple) participatory activities.


A female Projet Jeune Leader CSE Educator stands in a classroom in rural Madagascar speaking, holding a scripted lesson plan in her hand.
PJL Educator Judite teaching at Ambano middle school, aided by our scripted lesson plan booklet.


The Multiple Benefits of Scripted Lesson Plans for Comprehensive Sexuality Education


Reducing Bias through Intentional Language


Scripted lesson plans gave us much more influence over the content taught by our Educators to tens of thousands of adolescent students. Through certain linguistic choices, we were able to address issues that had resulted from the CSE Educators transmitting inaccurate or misleading messaging (whether they were doing so intentionally or unintentionally).


For example, one of PJL’s foundational lessons is “What does it mean to be a leader?” A male CSE Educator might say: “We can all be a leader.” Given the patriarchal context in which we work, the use of the “we” could be interpreted as restrictive (“We men…”) — inadvertently sending the message to female students that the statement does not apply to them. So, in PJL’s scripted lessons on the topic, stories and skits include stories of girls taking leadership and being agents of change or use gender-neutral names and pronouns.


Excerpts of pages from our scripted lesson plans (English translation). The lesson plans clearly differentiate instructions for the Educator from what the Educator should say to students.


Encouraging Participatory Pedagogy


With a scripted lesson plan in hand, our CSE Educators have been more likely to use participatory teaching techniques, given that they are baked into the easy-to-use lesson plan, requiring little additional creativity on their part. During After Action Reviews, our CSE Educators expressed that the scripted lesson plans allowed them to focus more on their tone and energy for participatory teaching because they did not to need to come up with detailed explanations on the spot — another encouraging result.


“You don’t need to make anything up; it’s all in the lesson already. Principals and other teachers see my curriculum and they say, 'Wow, it’s a complete and pre-programmed package, that’s awesome, we wish our lessons were like that, too.’” – PJL Educator

Importantly, we provide substantial pre-service and in-service training for our Educators to ensure that they understand the theory of change behind the curriculum, the purpose of participatory pedagogy, and how to employ inclusive classroom management techniques. This has helped to mitigate challenges found in other uses of scripted lesson plans, during which instructors sometimes adapted the lesson plans to be less participatory and interactive (for example, see Piper, Sitabkhan, et al., 2018).



A female Projet Jeune Leader CSE Educator stands at a blackboard with a male student, helping him write on the board. She holds PJL's scripted lesson plan book in her hand.
Despite being scripted, our lesson plans are highly participatory and student-centered.

Improved and More Consistent Learning Outcomes


In the first year of using the new curricula, we collected several different data points that suggested that the scripted lesson plans were successful in improving learning outcomes. Rapid appraisal activities with 4,852 students throughout the year showed that 79% understood the lesson taught that day well, 19% understood it somewhat, and only 1% did not understand it at all. Importantly, there was significantly more consistency in results across schools. Evaluations conducted since have continued to show these improved results.


Equipping New CSE Educators for Success


As we began training and supporting government-recruited teacher-trainees to deliver our CSE model in 2022, our scripted curricula have never been more valuable. At the beginning of the year, many of the teacher-trainees were nervous and hesitant about becoming CSE Educators. Many lacked the confidence to teach about sexuality, had little experience using participatory methods, and were reluctant to invest time preparing another subject given they were already overburdened with existing demands.


The scripted nature of our curricula mitigated these issues.


The teacher-trainees expressed that they valued the scripted lesson plans because they were easy to use and cut down on their preparation time for teaching (unlike their core subjects, which required extensive preparation). Teacher-trainees also appreciated how the participatory activities enabled them to form stronger bonds with their students, which had spillover effects on other classes and subjects. Finally, quality assurance checks suggested that teacher-trainees adhered to the scripted language in the lessons and did not incorporate any additional personal, values-based, or biased messaging in their lessons.


A female CSE Educator stands in front of a classroom doing a thumbs up and holding a Projet Jeune Leader curriculum book in the other hand.
A government teacher-trainee teaching a CSE class at Sahambavy Middle School.

Ultimately, our ability to deliver CSE at a larger scale in Madagascar — whether through CSE Educators we recruit ourselves, or through government-recruited teacher-trainees — would not have been possible without the shift to scripted lesson plans. (Or to be precise, would not have been possible to do with confidence and quality!)


“When I saw that the curriculum was already complete, that it had all the lessons in the form of participatory activities, I was happy. It’s clear that the content relates to everyday life, and when I teach my students, they are so engaged. It’s not like teaching French, or math… I want to continue to deliver the CSE program, and all I really need is the curriculum.” – Government-recruited teacher-trainee and CSE Educator

 

What actually goes into our scripted curricula? How do we develop them? Explore the process behind developing our newest curriculum for 9th grade students — an ambitious effort we undertook this year with support from Mundo Cooperante’s Right to be a Girl fund.

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