Unfortunately, many teacher training or induction programmes are stuffed full of lots of useful bits and pieces of information that help us fill up our lessons. Lesson planning is something trainees are shown how to do, but there’s a serious paucity of reflection over the essence of what teaching and learning actually is.
The basic organisational elements of planning have three timeframes:
- short: the next week’s lessons
- medium: the unit of work you are covering over the next few weeks
- long: the overall journey of the class throughout the year.
Remember that knowledge and skills need to drive everything. Ideally, at the start of a year, you should make time to look at the overall yearly plan in terms of what assessments are testing throughout the year, and make yourself aware of the generic skills that underpin all of these. That way, when you plan your way through units of work, you’ll have a real idea of how the skills your students need will fit together throughout the year.
In terms of orienting your way through units of work, the key is to start from the end – by looking at the assessment. What knowledge and skills are required for the students to succeed? In other words, if a student were to knock the assessment out of the park, what would they need to know and what would they need to do? Think about how those skills can be mapped onto the weeks leading up to the assessment.
Sadly, all too often, schools can place too much emphasis on whether books are marked with particular colours, using particular codes and at particular intervals. What they should be doing is developing their teachers’ understanding of how lessons fit into weeks, and how weeks come together to fit into whole units of work.
The stuff that gets judged on Learning Walks and Book Looks is only really worth looking at when lessons fit together properly and build towards something. Short-, medium- and long-term plans need to speak to each other continually, particularly the first two. Ploughing on with a medium-term plan when the shorter-term stuff isn’t working will not make things OK.
There is one thing all good teachers have in common: they reflect, and they aren’t afraid to make changes where they see the need. Often, an assessment won’t change, but how we get to that end point needs to give the students as much chance as possible to master the knowledge and skills for success.
The key – at least day to day – is to continually keep that dialogue of short- and medium-term planning going in your mind.
Reflections to keep your planning as sharp as it can be:
Reflect on these each week:
- What am I covering at this point in the unit of work?
- Are my learning objectives/questions explicit? Do they offer students a chance of success in actually being able to achieve it?
- What specific skills and knowledge are needed to make sure I cover it effectively?
- What vocabulary is going to be most helpful in scaffolding the students’ understanding of the topic?
Revisit these questions every two or three weeks:
- Am I clear in my ‘direction of travel?’ in the sense that I have a clear idea of the skills and knowledge that are being developed at each point, and what I think success ‘looks like’ for the students?
- What opportunities for recapping am I giving the students across the unit of work? Recap can include low-stakes quizzes, crosswords, ‘This is the answer, what is the question?’, etc.
- What opportunities for self- and peer-assessment am I giving students so that they can explicitly see how they are developing?
- Are the students clear on their ‘end goal’ of assessment in each of their lessons? Do I have a ‘big picture’ slide with all of the key information for the unit, so that I can share this with them each lesson?
Keep these in the back of your mind – ideally revisit termly. This is the hardest timeframe to get your head round, but trust me, if you keep the questions in mind, it will hugely pay off for your class.
- Looking at the units of work overall, depending on your subject, what are the themes or skills that underpin the units across the year?
- What do these skills look like in each unit of work? How can I make thematic links between units of work that will help the students understand how they’ve developed over the year?