Seeking adaptability in lessons as a result of more dynamic planning approaches.
Planning for learning will always be an issue for teachers, in that there are multiple layers of responsibility to be contained within the plan. However, planning is the bedrock of the order and organisation that enables a teacher to run a successful class and a head to run a successful school. The ultimate in planning allows a teacher to move towards personalised approaches, allowing individual children to have their needs accommodated. There are significant links with project management, and it is no surprise that earlier incarnations of thematic work were called projects. The sadness was that these projects sometimes came to an abrupt end due to time pressures, lack of resources or some other shortfall.
Teachers and schools have a number of variables to consider in planning, learning contexts, use of space, resources of all types, time, as well as the individual learning and emotional needs of the children. A good knowledge of the curriculum is essential, as well as a clear understanding of the potential of ICT to support learning. If any of these variables are not considered, learning can be unsuccessful, i.e. poorly structured topic, lack of appropriate space, table or floor, limited resources or poor accessibility, inadequate time available for development and completion. If the children’s needs are not respected, many may not make progress.
There are current debates about whether the curriculum should be built from the needs of the children or whether it is better to define the contexts within which children will learn. The Rose and Cambridge reviews suggested learning within domains, rather than subjects. It seems to be the case that current Government thinking errs towards retention of subjects and knowledge. Either way, the learning context for the children and whether they cover a sufficiently broad curriculum will ultimately be determined by their teacher.
Most schools plan at different timescales, whole school, annual plans, medium term (1-6 weeks) and then teacher short term plans. A great deal of planning will have gone into the stage of the teacher planning a lesson. Teachers worry most about short-term planning and some schools demand significant detail at that point, which creates a very heavy bureaucratic workload to create something that is ultimately a teacher aide memoire.
There is a strong argument for allowing the short term plans to be determined by the teacher, if the medium term plans are strong guides, but with the fall-back position that plans would be required if the teaching required improvement. For many teachers, a reflective log book would be sufficient; in fact I have met teachers whose schools require specific short term plans, which the teacher then reinterprets to be easily accessible. Are short term plans any use if they do not help short term cover teachers to be able to pick up exactly what is needed?
If planning overviews include plans for heavy marking demand periods, then workload issues could be examined more clearly. This could include alsoreport writing when other workload issues, such as meetings, can be adapted.
The value of overview planning should not be underestimated. A broad view of any journey is useful to ensure that, even if there is some tangential deviation from the original plan, there is clarity to the ultimate goals. Where planning is based on short term goal setting, it may not be possible to achieve the further goals within the timescales allowed.
In the annual plan shown, there was a clear intention by the teacher to use the first two and a half weeks of the year to establish the expectations within story writing, using the two page approach to writing (see descriptor), to get the children into certain ways of working and thinking. Poetry, art and ICT were closely linked to the process. The remainder of the curriculum during that period was described within more discrete subjects.
In this school, every subject area had a clear descriptor, a specification, of each of the subjects in the planner, so teachers knew what to teach and had suggestions as to how to teach the subject, based on previous experiences with the topic. The essence of the curriculum planning was topic, for interest and engagement, English, within every subject, and mathematics, where it was practical and useful, with DT, ICT and Art being used as support subjects to provide breadth of experience and exploration. Music and RE would occasionally be linked, but would also be developed separately. Aspects of PE and Music were also taken by experts as part of teacher PPA time.
Learning is a dynamic entity. Children should be presented with challenging opportunities with which they can engage. The best situations allow them some independence in decision making, identifying for themselves areas where they need to address a skill or knowledge shortage, thus leading to bespoke intervention. The National Curriculum as it currently stands makes very clear statements of this intention, describing both the contexts for learning and the expectation of learners.
Moving towards personalisation, over the medium term, is often a very challenging aspect of a teacher’s thinking, in that it brings together the three dimensional aspects of planning. Whereas the curriculum aspects are linear, simply fitting subject blocks into a timeline, personalisation of the curriculum demands a detailed knowledge of each individual child. That can be accomplished in stages, utilising differentiation by outcome in the early stages, to establish ability levels more succinctly, in order to tailor tasks that provide challenge. Initial sifting will allow a generalised grouping by general ability, into perhaps four or five groups, e.g. level 5,4,3,2,1. If the capabilities of each group can be described with care, tasks can be set to validate these judgements. If within each group the range can be described, personalised challenge can be presented as individualised “progress ladders” based on the next few learning targets. Alternatively teachers can state the individualised expectation of specific children. An example might be the top or bottom of the ability group. Challenge is the key to educational success and the progress of individuals leads to progress across the class.
Task setting for challenge is the next layer of consideration. Tasks need to match the learning needs of the group of children, so awareness of different needs is the key element. The need for challenge across a class will vary, in terms of complexity of tasking, but also potentially in the presentation of the task to the child and the necessary support. The former may be given an investigation with personal decision making embedded, whereas the latter may require step by step guidance from a knowledgeable other, with differential reading challenge provided by a larger font size. Time allowed needs to be carefully planned.
Task setting in this way is the ultimate end of teaching and learning. The original analyses of children’s abilities and the curriculum context have been refined into a clear plan of action, which is then embedded into classroom practice. The outcomes are reviewed, notice taken of anomalies and adjustments made to subsequent learning challenges. This approach to the planning process embeds the assessment knowledge at the beginning of the learning process, as it provides the background to challenge and target setting, dictates the expectations within the learning activity and the means of engaging the children, through potentially differential input or presentation and questioning. It also guides the intervention strategy of the teacher, as (s)he engages with the learning expectations, offering support or additional challenge as necessary to refine or redefine the activity.
Modelling the decision making cycle of teaching and learning, in line with teacher professional standards.
Just for information, here’s an overview of standards development for a trainee, who will need mentoring into ways of thinking, strategically as well as in detail.