Lesson planning – necessary evil?
The October half term was always one of my favorites! It was the equivalent to Friday night after a busy week. I would look forward to that space, peace & opportunity to just stop and breathe. Needless to say, I had a list of things I was going to do over the week that probably needed at least a month to complete but it gave me a sense of anticipation nevertheless.
Teachers all over the place are doing much the same thing this week. Several NQTs on Twitter have mentioned time to sort out lesson planning. This is a subject that seems to be of interest in the media at the moment TES forum and it got me thinking about my own view of lesson planning.
As a head teacher I observed lessons regularly. I knew what made a good lesson with good learning and I knew what the opposite was where children were bored by knowing it all or it all going over their heads. I was one of those however, who asked for a lesson plan when I went in so that I could make a more informed judgment of what I was seeing. This was particularly important if I could not stay for the whole of the lesson or was not able to talk to the teacher.
As a school where the standards still had a way to go, we were part of an LA support plan. This brought its own pressures, among them regular observations from LA officers who did like to see a detailed lesson plan. All the time we were short in the standards department, we had to tow this particular line.
Lesson planning could and has become an industry in its own right. Staff using these pre-planned lessons found them really useful at first. However, the more we were able to discuss learning and how best to access it for all our children, the more these ‘manufactured’ lessons were replaced by the teacher’s own plans. The purpose of a plan should be first and foremost to aid better learning through a teacher’s thorough understanding of where next. Children are notoriously reliable in not going down the route that had been planned on Sunday evening with half an eye on the results programme for ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. It is important that teachers know how to guide that learning either back on track or to extend it.
As in most things, lesson planning is a matter of balance. It should not be so detailed that the contents could not possibly be covered in the time available nor should it be so flimsy that apart from the first few minutes the rest of the lesson is on a wing and a prayer. Senior leaders need to have a mind to the time spent on planning and make sure it is not far more than the actual teaching (a point well made by Catherine Paver in the TES 15.10.10). They need to make sure it for the good of the teacher and the learning rather than the benefit of possible visitors.
For me a good lesson plan on a Wednesday should not be pristine. It should be full of scribbles, arrows and changes showing that the teacher has allowed the learning to develop with the needs of the children rather than the plan having paramount authority.
What planning happens in your school? How much time do you spend planning? Would you plan if you could choose?