The lesson plan

Okay, so far we have looked at what I call the non-negotiables. Now, let’s look at the lesson plan itself. When I was running a school that was in special measures because the quality of teaching (and some other stuff) was so poor, it was important to have particular expectations of the way people planned and what they put into their plans. This was because part of the strategy had to be policing planning so that the quality could be assured. So a common format was expected and monitored. However, when people got it and planning was no longer an issue, so we on the SLT felt able to take our foot off the collective staff neck and allow people to do what suited them. And this is still my personal position.

However, some schools will want planning to take a particular form – usually this is in association with some kind of monitoring process where the audience is more those doing the monitoring than the teachers who wrote the plans. I struggle with this a bit, but it’s how some leaders work and you have to meet their expectations.

I am very much in favour of allowing teachers to plan in the way that best suits them – and this was the point of the non-negotiables: things that had to be included. How the plan is laid out is a matter, in my view, of personal preference. For teachers at an early stage in their profession, and in training, there may be some merit in a detailed plan, with timings so that there is some control over the pace, if it’s an issue. But, if it’s not an issue, why do it?

Professor Robin Alexander, in Culture and Pedagogy, refers to episodic learning, and this makes some sense. A lesson is not – or should not – be a three-part formula, but a developing story. In the same way, Doug Lemov, in Teach Like a Champion, speaks of ‘my ball, our ball, your ball’ and this has a lot of merit. In working with teachers I often use this model, together with an acknowledgement of the importance of collaborative learning, so the lesson episodes look like this:-

  • My ball. Shut up, look and listen while I teach the key concepts.
  • Our ball. Let’s work together on seeing how these concepts can be applied – it’s modelling the method, sharing the writing etc.
  • Your ball. Work with you partner on this stage when you collaborate on a piece of work that involves applying the concept, using the model, in a different situation.
  • Checkpoint – okay, stop and let’s review what we have learnt so far. Now we can look at what makes good and use this to determine a set of steps to success that we can follow.
  • Your ball – but this time it’s individual work. You can do it together, can you now use that understanding to do it on your own.

Top and tail this with an introduction that hooks pupils in and a plenary that consolidates learning and you have a really solid lesson structure. Since you will have been clear about the learning, identified the key vocabulary and checked out how to met the needs of each pupil you’re good to go.

How to write it all down? Some teachers like a narrative – what happens in what order. This helps to ensure that the lesson runs sequentially and allows a Teaching Assistant to understand what’s going on. Some like to note what they expect pupils to learn at key points in the lesson. Still a good approach. Others prefer a quick and simple approach. For this take a good look at Ross McGill’s Five-Minute-Lesson Plan. It’s downloadable from the TES and other sites but Ross now has a dedicated online version.

If it helps, I have a quick, Planning for Learning – the one stop lesson plan that does the same kind of thing and is predicated on the model I’ve laid out above.

Remember, Ofsted do not demand a lesson plan, although some kind of narrative helps an observer to see where they are in the lesson. The DfE has said much about reducing workload, which incudes planning. Yet we know that we should be planning something. To try to wing it doesn’t lead to sustained success, although a confident teacher might get away with it a few times. But that’s because they have a plan in their head that they’ve used before. Lesson plans are important but they are not necessarily the time-gobbling burden they can become.

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