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?

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  • I totally agree about lesson plans not being pristine by Wednesday, it should be a working document. I keep my plans close by so I can scribble down quick observations on it (or attach post-its to it after if they’re closer!) which might slip my mind otherwise. It’s absolutely about balance. I definitely need some sort of plan, but I don’t always stick to it religiously. Life doesn’t always go according to plan and neither does teaching! I try to have an overview in my head so I know what it is I want to the children to have achieved. Like at the beginning of a literacy unit, I’ll block out how many days/lessons it’s going take and start at the end. What do I want to the final outcome to be? Then I work backwards from there. However, along the way I may well change how I had planned to get them there. When planning, I also try to keep in mind supply teachers, e.g. if I wasn’t in unexpectedly one day for whatever reason, could a supply follow my plan fairly easily? If they could it’s probably clear enough, if not it’s probably not detailed enough or too complex. Back to that keyword – balance!

  • We provide training for teachers and we often find that at the beginning of the day people are hoping for a series of lesson plans they can take away – we often provide some – but one of the things delegates, especially NQTs often find most useful is learning the skill of quickly adapting a lesson plan to meet the specific needs of their specific class and also picking up ideas about how to adapt a lesson that is not going to plan for some reason and making sure it can still be successful.
    I consider myself quite a good cook because I can rescue a recipe if it goes wrong and I’m sure that one of the great skills of teaching is being able to do the same with a lesson!

  • Nice post Julia, and it’s certainly got me thinking! I think the amount of planning required differs between teachers. We all have our own personalities and strengths and to put a blanket requirement on planning tries to make us all the same, which we are patently not! Some need planning to get things straight in their heads and to others detailed planning can hold back a creative lesson. Personally I do as little planning as possible – I went through a period of really detailed planning and ended up spending too much time on it to the extent that I was too tired to actually run the lesson! I’ve probably gone too far the other way now though and realise I should do more. But only a little bit…

    • Anonymous

      I found it helped clarify my thoughts but like you got really exhausted when it had to be so detailed. I used to get cross when the LA came & criticized the actual planning rather than an excellent lesson! I would imagine with your little crew, very few plans ran to plan (if you see what I mean!). Thanks for stopping by!

      • You’d be right! I’ll often start a lesson and end up nowhere near what I intended them to learn but more what they needed to learn. Thinking on your feet is an absolute necessity and probably what keeps me in Special Ed!

  • ebd35

    What I would need is a good (detailed) medium term plan and then 1 A4 landscape sheet set as timetable as a weekly overview with objectives under each day’s lesson and short description of activity.
    What I am supposed to produce is:
    1 A4 sheet for Literacy for the week
    1 A4 Maths sheet for the week
    1 A4 sheet for PM lessons
    1 A4 sheet for evaluations Literacy
    1 A4 sheet for evaluations for Maths
    1 A4 sheet for evaluation of PM lessons
    I often ask WHO AM I PLANNING FOR???

    • Anonymous

      I think that is a really good question! When do they think you have time to read them let alone write them!! Thanks for visiting!

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