It was way back in 2012 when the Chief Inspector, speaking at the RSA, referred to the ‘stultifying’ effect of formulaic lesson planning. I agreed then and I agree now. And we’ve moved on a bit from 2012; since then we’ve had the Mike Cladingbowl missive on why Ofsted will no longer be grading teachers or lessons, we had the Ofsted document about what they don’t expect schools to do and we’ve had it all bolted together in the Common Inspection Framework giving a clear lead to inspectors NOT to expect any particular pedagogy or assessment system, or frequency of lesson observations.
This is very reassuring, so why is it the schools and school leaders still get nervous about requiring a particular approach? I don’t want to get political here – that’s the OTHER Education Monkey on blogger – so, having spent much time in advising teachers on how to plan lessons, I thought it worth a few minutes on questioning the whole thing. In the first instance I’ll stick to the learning objective. This is nothing new, I’ve said all this before, but I’m repeating it because if continues to be a source of stress to teachers and leaders.
Let’s not get hung up on what it’s called; lesson objective, learning objective, learning outcome… who really cares? And if you think the kids do, then you’re wrong. Sure, kids like to know what the lesson is about and teachers MUST understand the specifics of what they expect pupils to learn but, you know, these two things do no necessarily join up! This is heresy to some school leaders, so I’ll whisper it – you really don’t have to display the learning objective at all. Some of the best lessons I’ve seen have not involved WALT, or WILF, or TIB, or any other members of this menagerie of characters that populate the world of lesson planning. Sometimes kids like to work to what the focus of the lesson has been for themselves. This way, you can be sure that they will let you know if YOU weren’t clear about it. Quite often they like the challenge in the form of a question. And, as soon as you make it a question, you shift the focus onto learning. So, rather than the tedious ‘We are Learning To…’ or “I can…” both of which are too frequently followed by an activity and not the learning (we are learning to write an autumn poem, I can name the parts of a plant…) why not try a question? Ask yourself, how exciting is it to a ten-year-old to copy down ‘We are learning to understand the key features of a play script’ (yawn)? So, why not ask simply, ‘how can actors remember all those words? With the supplementary question, ‘…and how do they know what to do?’ I guarantee you spark kids’ interest more keenly, you’ve saved all that copying out of a convoluted objective, and you’ve immediately given yourself the beginnings of an assessment protocol. Dylan William, making a similar point, asks, ‘why can’t we just ask students, “why is it colder on top of a mountain when it’s nearer the sun?’
And don’t give me that nonsense about writing down the LO as the title because then you can assess if it was met or not! If you are clear about the intended learning then surely, both you and the pupil can remember that a lesson entitled ‘How can ice and steam be the same?’ was about solids, liquids and gases.
It takes a bit of getting used to, this use of learning questions, but it’s fun. It’s a lot more fun than some of the stultifying lesson aims I’ve seen. You need to practice. Have a go, now. I won’t tell anyone,