Whenever I ask colleagues the question, ‘How do you plan your lessons?’ I never get the answer I expect to get. Their immediate starting point is often to describe the comprehensive written lesson plans they might produce for an observation or Ofsted. The kind where they pull all the stops out, justify their every move and add the cherry on top. A dancing, singing figure prances across my vision before I respond, ‘No, I don’t care about that kind of ‘planning’. ‘I’m interested in how you plan your lessons week in, week out – the planning you do for your students, not the big O.’
Then I’m invariably met with ‘Well I haven’t got time to write 4 page lesson plans for every single one of the hours I teach…’
After wondering how better to rephrase my question in order to avoid this in the future… I share that mine invariably consist of illegible scribbles on scraps of paper in a weird and wonderful layout that could only ever make sense to me. This appears to free colleagues up into a far more open and honest dialogue about what their lesson planning really consists of.
This, as you’d expect, varies wildly-
- Some have ideas in their head with minimal to no notes on paper
- Some stick to a linear layout with intricate timings and details for everything
- Some plan on the back of a post-it (there’s a book in there somewhere Rachel George and you know it!)
- Some make use of a 5 minute lesson plan (like this from Ross McGill or these from Shaun Andrew )
- Some will just take an index card of questions in with them – the rest of their lesson has been plotted on their slides and electronic resources
- One has a ‘mad Venn diagram’!
Layout aside (because I’ve never seen a single template used effectively across an entire body of teachers- please feel free to share one in the comments below if you know differently), the more pertinent questions become –
What does the process of planning a lesson actually involve?
What are the most important things for us to plan in advance and why?
The end point
Perhaps a little odd to start at the end but for me (and a number of colleagues I asked on Twitter), this is the most logical beginning for the planning process.
Where do you want your students to reach by the end of the lesson?
Someone once described it to me as ‘Students are walking out of that door at the end of the lesson- What knowledge would you like them to possess? How would you like them to be different? What questions would you like them to still be contemplating?’
I then take some time to plan how best to check this- Will it be a series of questions or an activity for them to complete? Will it be a reflection in a learning diary? Do I need to conduct this individually or could a small group assessment work at this moment in time?
This process logically leads me to writing some learning objectives for students to work towards during a session. These will be the guide on our learning journey ahead.
You can read more about the use of learning objectives/outcomes here – https://www.smore.com/bjjb4-learning-objectives
I generally choose a maximum of 3 learning objectives (because more just seems a bit crazy and less doesn’t always serve us well)-
- START IT – this will scaffold (support) students’ progress – a piece of knowledge they’ll need to be familiar with and have an understanding of.
- PROVE IT – to stretch them and demand some application and practice.
- DEVELOP IT – to challenge them still further and generally develop some longer-term attributes useful for their futures (digital skills, reflective capabilities, evaluation or problem solving skills).
(PS. This is never a to do list – it has to be about their learning!)
I’ve always struggled with how to relay these effectively to students and in recent years have resolved just to use questions. These take some crafting during the planning stages but once formed, they are then perfect for measuring levels of confidence at the start and end of a lesson – How confident are you that you could answer this question? How confident are you now? How about now? Students can then answer the learning objective questions for me during or at the end of a lesson and I can feel more secure that they’re leaving the classroom with all that I initially felt was important.
So I now know where I want them to get to but how can I get them there if I’m not sure where they’re starting from?
It’s important for me to consider, via planning, the best way to determine where each of my students is starting from (and part of this is often about their emotional wellbeing so that I can be aware of this and respond accordingly during the lesson). Is asking students’ levels of confidence enough? Do I need them to map out all that they know about a new topic? Could they teach the person next to them all that they’ve learned so far about a topic? Could they free-write for 2 minutes about the bits they know and don’t? Could they complete an activity or engage in an online quiz?
There are multiple ways to achieve a sense of this starting point but its importance is in the reflection that can then take place at the end of the lesson- What kind of a journey have they been on? Could I have pushed them further (as they knew a lot to begin with)? Could I have scaffolded activities more to ensure their progress (as they knew little to begin with)? Did they end up where I thought they would and does it matter? Knowing their starting point is a crucial part of me being able to ‘measure’ their progress.
I can also consider what I’ll use to warm up their brain and generate intrigue as they walk into the room and get prepared for the lesson -a question, a conundrum, a name, a face, a challenge. This and the all important routines we’ve established of meet and greet, catch-up about the week, find your place (different every week), lanyard, pen, paper, rewards for positive engagement…
You can explore a range of starter (and plenary activities) here – https://joyandknowledge.com/2015/12/01/starters-and-plenaries/
The journey in between
I then consider how I’m going to get the students from their starting point to as close as possible to the desired end point.
- How will the new learning be introduced- Will that be me? Could that be them? Will it be researched? Could video and/or demonstration be helpful?
- What will their ‘practice’ look like?
- How will they give or receive feedback?
- What assessment strategies can I use throughout to check their learning and move it forward?
My group profile is crucial for informing this part of my planning – Where are each of my students at currently? What are their strengths in this topic? What do they need to develop? How can I best shape activities to maximise learning for each of my individual students?
Them and me – At each point of the lesson- What are they doing? What am I doing?
Questions – What questions could I ask at pivotal moments in the lesson that might further their learning? How might I differentiate these for each of my students? What questions might they ask me? What misconceptions might they have?
Schedule– In a longer lesson- What timings are important (because I know I won’t be able to stick to them all)? What breaks from learning could I provide to refresh students’ energy and what will these consist of?
Connections– What pieces of previous learning could I make connections to? What learning to come could I relate it to portray a sense of the bigger picture?
Extend– How might their learning be extended outside of the lesson?
A word of caution
During my initial teacher education, I was given a card that said, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Whilst I have experienced failure even when I have planned, I can agree that few great lessons have come from no lesson plan at all (although I do remember an awesome one!). So planning seems to be worthwhile but a word of caution is shared in this piece of research (thanks for the link Deep Ghataura).
‘Once the teacher decides what outcomes (s)he wants from the lesson and how (s)he will achieve them, (s)he sets out to produce these outcomes regardless of what pupils introduce into the teaching-learning situation. Pupils’ ideas and remarks are words to be heard, not thoughts to be dealt with’ (Zahorik, J, 1970).
So, whilst we plan where we want to take our students and predict how they will get there, we must not adhere so rigidly to the plan and what we expect that we miss the rich learning experiences that could result from us being more responsive to the reality of the students in front of us.
There are, of course, many, many elements of a lesson that I’ve missed out here but I chose only to write about the fundamental aspects- the parts that I think make the biggest difference to learners’ progress as well as those parts that make me feel more confident entering a lesson. I’d love to know what you think? Please comment below or contact me on Twitter @hannahtyreman