Lesson Planning – look again!
Lesson planning has a bad reputation. Often lumped alongside marking, report writing and the other day-to-day aspects of the job outside the hours spent face to face with students, forming part of role frequently described as the ‘teacher workload’ that members of the profession and those looking to discuss it so hotly debate, lesson planning can sometimes feel like a never-ending task that, at times, is made an unnecessarily arduous process. But the truth is, when done right, planning your lessons can be something simple, exciting and even an aspect of the profession that many learn to love!
The purpose of lesson planning is actually to make a teacher’s life easier, not harder! And, if we are honest, we all know that effective planning and preparation results in better use of lesson time, resources that actually work and improved student engagement. With this in mind, embracing the process and looking to improve our abilities in relation to it must be a win-win. Whether producing a formal lesson plan or a speedy set of notes in your personal planner, having a sound understanding of the principles of planning. You can revisit these regularly and will not only minimise the effort required to prepare for the lesson in the first place, but will also ensure that the lesson itself is the very best it can be.
So, lesson planning pro-formas aside, what are the key factors we must fully understand if we are to simplify our planning process and prepare lessons that our students will love?
1. Work backwards
What is the purpose of your lesson? Why do the students need to learn what you are teaching them today? How are the tasks they are completing contributing to their progress? By starting out with where you want your students to be and working backwards, we can be sure that each and every lesson takes them one step closer to this. This is why lesson aims, objectives and outcomes are so important. Having a clear understanding of yours (and knowing the difference between each) allows you to be certain that every activity you have planned for the lesson is working towards these goals. And, if we are certain of why our lesson content is so crucial, we can then ensure that our students understand its importance too. Which will result in learners who are fully invested in their time within your classroom.
2. Know your audience
Having thorough knowledge of your students may be the most important aspect of any planning. From having accurate data about their prior achievements to knowing a little about how they like to spend their spare time. You’ll be able to build a detailed picture of the students in your classroom, which can help you tailor your lesson plans to their abilities and interests. In turn, you will see students who are proud of their progress and excited to arrive at your door.
3. Every second counts
No matter how long a lesson is, or how many lessons you have with a class, it will always feel as if there is more learning that could be done. That’s why every moment you spend with your classes should be accounted for. Be realistic about the time they can and should spend on different tasks, and plan for any moments that might slow this down. Ensure you maximise the time you spend together and keep them engaged at all times.
4. A focus on learning
We have all taught lessons where it feels as though we are working harder than our students and, if we reflect on this, one of the reasons this is so frustrating is because we know that very little learning has taken place. With this in mind, when we plan our lessons we should be shifting the focus from what we are learning about during the lesson and asking ourselves how the activities we are planning allow the students to learn. Additionally, if we actively encourage the students in our classrooms to reflect upon this process too, with activities that support metacognition, then the impact of our content is even greater.
5. Assessment for all
Whilst marking and exams may feel a long way off when engaged in the process of planning, keeping the concepts of formative assessment at the forefront of our minds can not only support student progress but also minimise the stress surrounding these more summative forms of assessment. Plan questions, this will provide opportunities in the lesson for reflection and preparing resources that encourage students to think of answers. All these activities are going to have a huge impact on student achievement.
Furthermore, if we adopt the same approach to reflection and evaluation of our own practice we can look at ways to improve when we plan our future lessons. We will invariably deliver lessons that continue to get better and better.
Written by guest author, Rebecca Cracknell, Connex Education Partnership tutor, and writer for Thirsty Scholars Partnership. Rebecca has written our recently launched course: Planning and Preparing Engaging Lessons.