Thoughts on Lesson Planning

‘Wow!’ That’s so simple but it just works!’

These were the words of a teacher I worked with not so long ago when I was supporting her with planning for literacy and mathematics.

We have all been there….spending evenings and weekends slumped over a laptop, filling in what seems like endless amounts of boxes on planning sheets, sometimes to be completed a whole week in advance and often to be handed in for scrutiny.

I am not saying that planning is not important – it is. However, it is the way that we thinkduring the planning process that to me is the key to effective planning and to me, that thinking has to start with four questions:

1)     What do the children need to learn?

2)     Where are the children ‘at’ with regards to that learning?

3)     Where do they need to ‘get to’ in order to have made progress by the end of the lesson? (learning outcomes)

4)     What is the best way to get them there? (What will the teaching sequence through the lesson look like?)

It is through our assessments, particularly our day-to-day Assessment for Learning, that we learn the answers to the above questions. So, when planning, we need to stop and think about what those assessments are telling us.

If we know what the children need to learn this will help us to frame those all-important learning objectives. It is what they are ‘learning’ that is important, not what they are ‘doing’ and the learning objective/s on planning need to reflect this.

If we know where the children are ‘at’ with regards to that learning we can then think about where they need to ‘get to’ in order to have made progress within the lesson. For example, It could be that the learning is progressive and that there is a clear next step for the child to reach by the end of the lesson or it could be that a child’s learning is still at the ‘shallow’ stage and that they need to be given further opportunities to practise a particular skill in order to gain confidence before moving on to ‘deepen’ their learning. The key thing is that we think about the end of the lesson and the possible learning outcomes before thinking about what the children will ‘do’ in the lesson.

Once the learning outcomes are clear, (and, in the case of the teacher I mentioned that I was supporting, it made it even more clear to have these incorporated on the plan), it is time to think about the ‘fun’ part. How can we structure the lesson so that the children are able to achieve the learning outcomes in the most engaging and motivating way possible? How can we use the ideas underpinning TT Education’s ‘Path to Success’ and incorporate opportunities for the children to experience, play, use, develop and make connections in their learning? How can we plan for active approaches to learning that encourage the children to work collaboratively and use Talk for Learning?

Having thought about all this, we need to decide how much of that thinking we need to incorporate on planning? This is, of course, up to individual schools to decide, based on their own circumstances, but, on the whole, is it more important that we have lots of detail on plans that the teacher will not need to look at again because they have internalised it anyway, or will the key points be sufficient? Is it more important that the teacher, who by now has a very clear idea about the ‘learning’ that is needed in that lesson, spends time preparing the necessary resources to make sure that the learning can take place rather than writing down copious amounts of detail?

Of course, we need to consider many other things when planning, including the following (and this is certainly not an exhaustive list!):

  • How will the lesson start? How can we ensure that there is immediate engagement and ensure that engagement continues throughout?
  • What opportunities will we provide for pupils to work in a variety of groupings and to talk with others? Will the learning best be moved forward by providing opportunities to work individually or with a learning partner or small group?
  • What structure will the lesson take? Does our planning format allow for us to plan for different lesson models?
  • Do we need success criteria and, if so, do they need to be written on plans? Indeed, is it possible that the form the success criteria will take can even be recorded in words on plans? Perhaps it will instead be a modelled example on the board or completed orally or in pictures/symbols. Perhaps, dare I say it, the lesson does not need a set of success criteria in order for the children to learn and make progress?
  • How will we differentiate the lesson? Through task? Support? Resources? Expectation? Response? Does our planning allow for different forms of differentiation or does it just lend itself to the traditional 3/4/5 ability groups with different activities?
  • How will we ensure that all children are challenged? Will we have flexible groupings and let the children ‘choose their own challenge’ and therefore the learning outcome that they are aiming for? If so, how does our planning format allow us to plan for this?
  • How will we ensure that planning is flexible enough to allow for re-shaping? In fact, if we have spent hours completing very detailed plans, how flexible will we be prepared to be if we see all those hours ‘wasted’?
  • When will ‘direct teaching’ need to take place and will it be appropriate for all children? If not, what will those children be doing instead and how can we reflect this on planning? And what about those moments when direct teaching arises out of the responses from the pupils and can therefore not be planned for?
  • Where will teacher modelling need to take place? Indeed, surely, like direct teaching, some modelling will be spontaneous, based on the responses of the pupils?
  • What will the role of other adults in the classroom be and how can they be deployed most effectively to support the learning of the children in all parts of the lesson?
  • Can we plan for key questions? Are there one or two questions that it would be worth writing on plans that will really move the learning on and deepen thinking?
  • What resources will be needed?

But, THINKING about these things is the key.

So, to conclude, what we really need to do is to focus on those four key questions:

1)     What do the children need to learn?

2)     Where are the children ‘at’ with regards to that learning?

3)     Where do they need to ‘get to’ in order to have made progress by the end of the lesson? (learning outcomes)

4)     What is the best way to get them there? (What will the teaching sequence through the lesson look like?)

If we do this, then what we will need to include on planning will become clear on a lesson by lesson basis, based on the needs of the children and the teaching sequence that will be taking place. And then hopefully, we will be able to think, as my teacher colleague did, that, ‘It’s simple, but it just works!’