“To plan or not to plan, that is the question”, with apologies to William Shakespeare on whose 450th birthday I’m penning this blog post. Lesson planning has potentially become a tragedy of Shakespearian proportion due to the amount of time teachers invest in it, sometimes with very little return for their efforts, in terms of improved learning in the class room.
Over the next few years teachers the length and breadth of England will be planning and re-planning their lessons in response to an almost endless onslaught of curriculum changes. The curriculum has or is about to change across Key Stages 1, 2 and 3; there are new GCSE syllabi being introduced in 2015 and a whole raft of changes to A-level syllabi, some have already been introduced and others are about to be spewed out on the conveyor belt of curriculum change.
How Much Has Your Subject Changed?
I left wondering with all this curriculum change has my subject (Science with a leaning towards Chemistry) fundamentally changed that much over the years? Understanding atomic theory; how elements arrangement in the Periodic Table, with its repeating patterns and various trends; particle theory and states of matter; reactions in terms of structure and bonding, endothermic and exothermic and rate with some dynamic equilibrium thrown in; not forgetting the mole as a bit of good old quantitative chemistry that makes you think all washed down with lashings of inorganic and organic chemistry. It is pretty much the same now as when I started teaching over twenty five years ago.
There is also a need for students to develop a scientist’s “habits of mind” and ways of working which are quite subject specific as well as the more transferable skills of literacy, numeracy, planning and evaluating approaches to learning that will allow them to become increasingly self-sufficient in their learning as the opportunities and demands arise. I kind of feel that pretty much nails it (with possibly the odd omission that my age now permits me).
Good Science is Good Science and always has been.
To Lesson Plan or Not to Lesson Plan?
My answer to this is no, yes and all in good time which I realise may not be particularly helpful. I intend to blog out a few short posts, over the coming weeks, with some ideas and approaches to lesson planning, given its centrality to how teachers will be spending many of their waking hours over the coming years, to explain my thinking.
The How & What
It is important to get the how and what of the planning process right and also to get the how and what of the lesson plan right.
I’ve both written and seen lesson plans and observed lessons that are full of activities. They tend to be busy but wasted opportunities for students’ learning. I now find myself automatically and immediately correcting anyone who tells me what they or students will be doing in a lesson. I can’t help myself and worry at times that my intervention is a bit too brusque possibly bordering on the rude. I’m simply not interested, in the first instance, what teachers or students will be doing as I’m much more interested in what students will be expected to learn. There should be no planning of lessons before this is determined. Expected learning first, plan strategies and activities later.
Possibly the next piece of advice would be don’t plan lessons rather develop “learning flows”. Planning lessons in isolation tends to lead to a disconnect in the learning rather than a structure and sequence that develops learning from its basic facts to deeper understanding or discrete skills to the use of a range of inter-related skills required to produce the desired outcome. The extreme example of the individual lesson plan is the “show pony” or “jazz hands” observed lesson that is pulled out of the bag to bedazzle students and observers alike.
The how of the planning process is collaborative working. Working with colleagues to develop the core expected or targeted learning simply increases the human capital available and engaged in the task – the outcome will be improved. Sadly, too often I wrote (and I mean I wrote) schemes of work when I should have been writing schemes of learning (acknowledgement: Mark Healy @cijane02) or have seen schemes produced by the head of department or subject co-ordinator that were impoverished due to the lack of engagement of colleagues or a failure to secure a shared understanding of the content. They should be developed collaboratively. This planning is a fantastic professional development opportunity where teachers can discuss and agree the big concepts and ideas; how to build towards them and the potential misconceptions students develop or minefields in a particular area of study. It helps further secure teachers’ subject knowledge and its application in the class room.
Schemes of learning need to contain what must be learnt and not necessarily how the content should be taught. People teach how they teach and there is often a huge amount of energy required to change this.
It has been suggested that it is easier to change a teacher’s religion than it is to change their pedagogy.
Simply putting a different teaching strategy in a scheme of learning is largely ineffectual in changing teachers’ methodology. Allied to this the complexity required to determine a particular strategy, for a given learning intention, at a particular point in time with a certain group of students most pedagogy is best left out of the schemes of work.
This isn’t an “anything goes” type of argument as some teaching strategies have proved more effective over time. It is much more about accepting there are different strategies, a number of which would be effective, to ensure the required learning occurs. There needs to be a level of professional autonomy to allow the teacher to choose the one s/he feels is most appropriate. This approach also allows for the body of knowledge, about what does and doesn’t constitute effective teaching, to grow and develop over time as long as there is a process of rigorous evaluation. We have not yet reached the point that we know everything there is to know about teaching so why pretend otherwise?
Once the backbone of the curriculum has been determined and secured then it is time to plan lessons or my preference is a series of lessons. This is the creative and fun part where teachers can decide how to deliver the learning by either planning lessons on their own or with colleagues. The what of the lesson planning process focuses on the pedagogy as the content should have already been agreed.
Below is an attempt to produce a visual schema of part of the process described above. It is for planning a series of lessons but could be used for individual lessons if you prefer.
It comes from the post #OutstandingIn10Plus10 which is a professional development programme delivered at St. Mary’s for the first time this academic year (at the bottom of the post the above resource is available to download).
This is likely to be a mini-series of posts written around some inter-related ideas:
Happy lesson planning, or maybe not or maybe in time.
I’ve changed the term schemes of work to schemes of learning after this nudge from Mark: