Planning your lessons: ‘I’ve seen this great resource on...’

Written by: Victoria Withall | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In an era of high workloads, sharing resources seems like the sensible thing to do. However, Victoria Withall warns about the downsides, including the worrying death of our creativity...

Share: such an amiable verb, one which evokes feelings of belonging, involvement and participation.

For me it suggests being a part of something: discussing, socialising, exchanging ideas. By its very definition, you can’t escape the idea that the act involves another or others. But is that what we mean when we are asked to “share resources”?
Part of the beauty of the English language is its malleability, its incredible ability to twist and turn, to meander like the Amazon as it hits resistance and searches for new paths and routes to explore.

Thanks in the main to Dr James Murray’s editorship of the Oxford English Dictionary, it adapts quickly to new usage, which is why the verb “share” has the more recent addition to its definition: to post or repost (something) on a social media website or application.

There can certainly be no argument that sharing resources involves others, but it feels very one-directional. Wouldn’t “giving” be a much more apt choice?

Give: a rather more noble and generous verb choice. But are we now saturated with these “gifts”? Is it time to ask for the receipt and surreptitiously return them whence they came? The generosity with which they are proffered is not in doubt, but my fear is that too many teachers, especially those fairly new to the profession, will accept these gifts and thereby not develop the key skills needed to fully appreciate good lesson structure, the seamless fluid building of episodes that develop students’ knowledge and understanding. They will, in essence, end up lacking a fundamental grasp of the stages of learning and instead deliver tasks rather than lessons.

Internet materials can creep up on you, insidiously finding their way into what was once an in-house bespoke scheme of learning, when someone offers to share a resource they “found” on a forum or group they are a part of.

Phrases like, “I’ve seen this great resource on...” and “I got it from...” fill me with dread. The fuller the resources folder becomes, the emptier the ideas seem to be. It reminds me of Imtiaz Dharker’s poem Blessing – a seemingly wonderful gushing of water as the pipe bursts, where water is desperately in need, but the pipe will empty and water will then be in short supply. The analogy is simple – there is a gushing forth of resources copied from the internet and pasted into shared folders, but there is an emptiness of understanding of how they support the learning objectives of the lessons they link to.

I started learning my trade 25 years ago. When I talk about “my trade”, I’m referring to the basics – planning a scheme of work and creating quality resources to support it. There was no internet, computers were scary and not being able to create your own lessons and resources was simply not an option. I had written several schemes of work before I ever stepped foot in front of a class.

How many times do I hear nowadays that a trainee teacher has had only limited or no experience of writing schemes of work and producing accompanying resources? One was even shocked to learn that there was a time when teachers actually had to write their own. Surely, this is what trainees should be taught to do?

When a good teacher creates their own schemes of work and resources, they think through the process of learning. It is not simply about having engaging resources, but knowing how to impart them in the right order, at the right time, to the right pupils.

Good teachers helpfully scaffold the building blocks to match the intended outcome and over time this starts to become second-nature in their teaching practice – but only over time.

Even then, no two lessons are ever the same: with each new sea of bright and willing faces comes new and diverse challenges which need to be supported. That “great internet resource” may indeed have an innovative or unusual approach, but more often than not it is only a standalone resource. Putting several disparate activities together does not effect a fluid progression of learning.

More worryingly, teachers, having taken these resources, may fall into the trap of not adapting them sufficiently to meet their own classes’ needs. Like the Amazon River, teachers have to twist and turn, to adapt and support specific pupils, in specific classes, on specific days. How can a resource gifted over the internet, therefore, ever suffice?

It feels as if our craft and creativity is disappearing and we will be plunged into a world of ready-made, one-size-fits-all lesson plans and straitjackets. Perhaps worse than that, new teachers – enthusiastic and bursting with creativity – will quickly succumb to the “quick-fix” of today’s social media-ready resources and miss out on one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the profession.

It is not that there aren’t creative ideas out there, it is just that fewer people are coming up with them. I have private nightmares, where I see resource production becoming a cottage industry with a few skilled artisans beavering away to keep the precious skills alive.

I believe it is “one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the profession”, but also one of the most time-consuming features. Work/life balance has been a prominent fixture on unions’ agendas for the last 15 years – and rightly so, but it is not something new to the profession.

My mother, an English teacher, head of house and SENCO, would invariably leave us waiting at the school gates to be picked up while she attended daily after-school meetings. She would only settle to her marking and planning very late in the evening. Oh, how I’m sure she would have welcomed a work/life balance agenda and the internet!

The internet has, without doubt, enabled unlimited access to valuable reference material and ideas. It can save a huge amount of time. It has become a critical source for educational theses, theories and modes d’emplois. There are clearly some incredible and inventive practices occurring around the world, which, were it not for internet sharing, the majority of us would be working in unconscious ignorance of, and not developing our own practices in a progressive and exciting manner as a result.

Additionally, in today’s struggling financial climate, when so many teachers are being required to teach outside their subject areas, being able to access a world of teaching materials from experts is both an efficient and effective way to ensure pupils are given some degree of quality teaching. But these are exceptions. These are the circumstances where sharing is, I would argue, vital. This is exactly the kind of support you would expect within a good school or department.

The irony of this shared piece is not lost on me, neither is the diametrically opposing concept of having an internet bursting with creative resources and yet at the same time opposing this with my introductory statement of “the death of creativity”.
So, let me leave you with this: watching children engage with, and learn from, original ideas which you have crafted into a well-structured lesson is surely one of the greatest “gifts” teachers can give. Don’t let it become an artisan craft – instead encourage innovation, imagination and creativity within your own departments and schools.

  • Victoria Withall is an English teacher at The Elizabethan Academy, Retford, Nottinghamshire, and Silver Winner for the National Pearson Teaching Awards 2018 for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School.

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