Is the focus on single lesson planning, and with it, single lesson learning objectives taking away from and even possibly destroying the learning dynamic? I know there is the classic Mao statement about the longest journey starting with the first step, but it does usually help to know where you are going.
It is strange how a series of discussions can meld into one, when discussing the needs of early career, or ITE trainees. Recently, with School Direct trainees starting their journey towards qualified teacher status, there have been opportunities to “touch base” and see how they are getting on. Almost without exception, they picked on planning as their biggest issue at this stage.
Seeking to unpick the reasons for this was, and is, always illuminating, as the identified areas fluctuate between personal and school need. Not everyone is organised in their approach, so some need to address their time management, or devote some time to research more effectively and efficiently. We all know how long can be wasted on internet searches. Schools, in seeking to help their trainees, may give them detailed (sure fire) plans completed by a subject manager, the year lead or an experienced colleague. If the trainee is party to the lesson plan development, they have an inkling as to the underlying thinking. Where it arrives “cold”, the trainee will struggle to interpret the plan as intended and won’t have the skills to address issues that may then arise. It can be a recipe for failure, even for an experienced teacher.
Planning at lesson level seemed to come to prominence with the argued need to demonstrate progress within a lesson. This led to a variety of “lesson interrupters” like ill thought out “mini-plenaries”, or perhaps an ill-judged application of Assessment for Learning; thumbs up etc. The need to show progress may have taken over from the need to make progress. Activity lessons, lumped end to end, do not create a recipe for progress. Progress is made by engaging with challenge, exploring inconsistent outcomes, adding value through discussion and feedback and then evaluating outcomes to find further areas for development.
When a trainee tells you that they have spent three hours planning an hour’s lesson, there is significant imbalance in effort.
Instead of single lesson plans, I’d want students to begin to explore learning over time, as medium term plans. Then over one, two, three weeks, starting from an aspiration for children to make progress over that timescale, “medium term objectives” can be set that will guide the dynamics of that time, including the setting of home activity, that can then be tailored to support the journey.
Within this journey, each lesson might then have greater coherence, as it can be described as the next step. Checking the outcomes of each lesson, to support decisions on how to tweak the next lesson to the needs of the children become easier, too. Within “medium term objectives” can coexist the personal learning targets of each child.
The medium term plan, to my mind, would be a significant overview, with intervening lesson plans being the tweaks rather than further substantive planning, unless there are obvious gaps in learning that need to be addressed. These intervening plans can then be a less detailed, depending on the individual needs of the teacher.
I’d go a little further too, and, for those in a position to support the learning over the whole year, to articulate “annual objectives” for different children, within which the medium and short term objectives can have resonance and be made visible to learners.
Planning, in reality as a Primary teacher, is a multi-layered affair. The needs of a range of children across a range of subjects is at least a 3-dimensional jigsaw. To restrict students and early career teachers to single lessons can instil bad habits, in some, from the start. They need a very clear whole picture before they can make sense of the parts. They also need to be aware of those areas where they need to focus their own personal research and development efforts.
It is the same for the learners too. To know where they are going over a timescale that they can consider; this week, for two/three weeks we will be studying…, they can begin to make links for themselves that the teacher may not be making sufficiently explicit, lesson by lesson. Some schools send home a half term plan of what is coming up, so that parents can also be kept in the picture and can see the purpose of home activity when it is set.
Where a learner is experiencing learning issues, to be able to identify these within the span of a topic, then to appropriately focus efforts on addressing the identified problem, can ensure that the child is not left to flounder, and as a result to not make progress. Which, after all, is what teaching and learning is about. Every child making progress.