This blog post is the first in a series. It focuses on ideas for reflecting and developing practice as a trainee teacher. The blog posts are centred around questions from a document that I produced a few years ago whilst working with trainees. The questions fall into 4 areas, of which planning is one, and they act as a checklist.
They are by no means complete. They provide a framework and reference point for trainees. That said, they could be used with NQTs or by more experienced practitioners. The questions for each of these posts are broadly grouped together.
Question 1: Where does the lesson fit in the sequence of lessons/topics?
As a trainee, irrespective of your pathway, planning a lesson is often in isolation. Trainees think about them on a lesson-by lesson and day-by-day basis. This is by no means a criticism, just what tends to happen. Until trainees (or teachers) reflect on and develop the nature of their planning.
This questions focuses on making it easier to lengthen or shorten the time spent on a topic or skill in a sequence. It gives planning a real sense of direction and the ability to plan for the progression of the pupils. Trying to demonstrate rapid progress, loathsome term, in 20 minutes, is a falsehood. It would be better to look at the pupils’ knowledge/skills development across a sequence of lessons..
Question 2: Have I considered a starter to recap prior learning? Are there links to the lesson?
There are many planning models and approaches that I have seen in my work as a teacher and PGCE tutor. One, highly frequent tenet is to have a starter, or a recap. There are times where the starter does not explicitly link to the lesson’s content. Particularly when trying to reference a special day or world event. However, usually this first task should build a bridge to what was being learnt/taught in the previous lesson.
This links back to planning in sequence. The trainee can then plan the starter, or even just the topic so that there is a forward-looking plan in place. The plans can build in time to recap on prior learning and look forward. Secondly, could the starter provide a link to the lesson’s content? This might present familiar material in an unfamiliar context as a lead in to a new topic.
Question 3: Does the starter settle and focus on learning?
This question certainly reminds me of my own PGCE days! There was a lot of discussion of stirring and settling activities. I think it is important to remember both concepts. Therefore, the planning can reflect the atmosphere that you intend to create in the classroom.
There is a trend for starters to settle pupils. This includes the ever frequent ‘Do now’ activity on the desk or on the board ready at the start of the lesson. I have always thought that this a good way of managing behaviour and classroom expectations. The pupils settle, are working and ready for the rest of the content. Then as a trainee/teacher, you are in a much better place to launch into the exposition phase of your teaching. I often hand out an activity as I great the pupils at the door, several birds with one stone!
Question 4: Are the activities placed logically?
The planning sequence does point towards an element of structure. Effective lesson planning often starts with the end goal in mind. Asking the question, what do I want the pupils to achieve? Then the activities should be placed to develop the skills according to subject-specific methodology.
There can often be a minor tweak in planning to make a big impact. Sometimes trainees/teachers have an excellent plenary, although it is oddly placed in the sequence. So, switching a few things around can really transform the outcomes of a lesson.
Question 5: Have I considered a balance of skills?
I realise that there are many types of lessons. Sometimes I have spent entire lessons focusing on one skill, such as essay planning and writing. But that is because lesson planning over a sequence, unit or module needs a good degree of variety.
However, quite early on in a unit of work, there are often more short and snappy activities to build knowledge and confidence with skills. Therefore, planning should include activities that hit a range of assessment objectives. As the planning of the unit develops, the balance might well shift. For example, at the start of a year 10 unit on holidays, I might visit 3 or 4 skills in an MFL lesson. But towards the end, I might have a lesson dedicated to listening skills in a computer room or a timed piece of writing.
These lessons focus on one skill but require the development of skills in all of the previous lessons. They cannot be the start of a sequence as the pupils are not well enough equipped to be successful. These lessons were not from my first few years of teaching. I just didn’t feel confident enough to give it ago, it takes time to develop your approach.
The answers to these questions could include far more detail and a range of subject specific references. However, this series of blog posts provides ideas for reflecting and developing practice as a trainee teacher. It could act as a springboard for discussions with mentors and tutors. Otherwise, it could be a staring place for further online or offline research into different strategies.