One of my favourite blogs is Bodil Isaksen’s post on lessons being the wrong unit of time. In that, and later in David Didau’s post on lesson planning, the idea that teachers focus too much on what children do, rather than what they learn, is shown up for what it is: a poorly thought out, naïve assumption that the time constraints of discrete lessons, or hours, are the packages in which children learn simply because those are the periods of time in which we teach.
Bodil says, rightly, that “Our planning is weakened by lesson-based thinking”, which David then furthers by stating that “When we accept that anything of worth takes time then we can tell students that what we want them to learn is too hard to pick up in a single lesson.” To many of us I suspect this is a revelation. I’ve planned so many “lessons”, with starters and ISMs (a history thing) and mini-plenaries: all the fireworks and bells, and so on. But in doing so I did the content a disservice and the learning subsequently often took a back seat.
The thing is, when we plan with activities in mind we often, naturally, round them up to 60 minutes. It makes sense – 5 minutes on this, 15 on that, then a short 5 minutes again. We often have pace in mind, or a misunderstanding of chunking or interleaving, because these are words we’ve heard someone else say, someone who’s Good. And we like to be neat, partly because we have to be, and partly because many of us would like to be organised, even if we’re not. Or someone else wants us to appear organised, and so our folders and filing cabinets do, but we end up too tired to even tie our shoelaces.
This leads us to write insanely detailed, minute-by-minute lesson plans, narrated and tightly wound with no expectation of, or room for, any ripples in the water: the fire bell, poor behaviour, an interesting tangent, a bee in the room, the lateness from PE and confusion. And by spending time on these we’re wasting time we could spend just knowing our subject better, considering the threshold concepts children might need to know first and just improving our explanations.
Lesson plans in the sense that we’re perhaps used to are a pointless exercise, seemingly designed to keep us from actually talking about our subjects with our teams. Schemes of work are often the same, with lists of objectives and skills and the number of times British values (all stand!) have been met. But these constrict: they might ensure certain topics are covered but they do nothing for understanding. And it’s tempting to ask for detailed plans if we’re new to the subject, but actually we’d be better having a discussion with our team. We’d probably find that if we talked to each other more we’d rely on PowerPoints and videos less.
Instead of planning lessons and schemes, why not spend some quality department time actually creating interesting questions to answer, looking at the subject matter in detail (especially if there are non-specialists) and talking through learning together? How much more effective would that be than ticking off activities on the lesson plan? We can still use checklists (and I do), and even write out learning timelines, but unless we’re really in a rush (May 15th, anyone?) following a strict plan most of the time is probably not the best way to teach.
Know your subject, talk about your subject and don’t plan lessons. Plan learning.