Simplifying our practice: Lesson planning

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In a series of five articles, Adam Riches is looking at how we might simplify common classroom practice in order to make teaching and learning more effective. Part five looks at lesson planning

In the classroom, fads come and go, but one thing that stays consistent is the correlation between preparation for learning and success.

Taking the time to plan and prepare is paramount to successful learning, but the process can become laborious if not managed carefully. By which I mean that we can easily spend hours planning our curriculum, lessons and resources, and we must consider whether our time is being used efficiently.

Know your topics

At the heart of good planning is good subject knowledge. Quite simply, you cannot plan an effective lesson if you don’t know the intricacies of the subject being taught. A prerequisite knowledge of the curriculum requirements is also desirable.

So before you begin, make sure you are aware of what the point of the learning is. Ask where it fits into the big picture – this will give you the context and direction and also indicate what else you may need to include to stretch and challenge learners.

When planning outside of your specialism, we must factor in the additional time it will take to get up-to-speed with the aspects of subject knowledge that are less familiar. If you are planning outside of your specialism, make sure you lean on others around you. Teachers working out of specialism quickly ascertain the required subject content and one of the best ways is through effective planning processes.

Simplifying our practice: Articles in this series

  1. Marking and feedback (October 2021). Click here.
  2. Instructions and expectations (October 2021). Click here.
  3. Self-efficacy (November 2021). Click here.
  4. The learning environment (November 2021. Click here.
  5. Planning (December 2021). Click here.

Start at the end

The concept and use of learning objectives or outcomes to highlight the purpose of teaching is a hotly debated topic. Regardless of what your school approach to objectives is, when planning it is important for you to have some idea of why you are teaching what you are and where you are going.

Having an end point allows you to consider where your learners need to be at the terminal part of the lesson, or at the end of a series of lessons. Having objectives also allows you to consider how you are going to support the learners in getting to that final point. When sequencing learning, knowing where you’re going and when gives you clarity. Having an idea of what needs to be achieved in the long, medium and short term will make your planning much more focused and efficient. So think carefully about how you word your objectives, as this can have a real impact on how you direct the learning as a teacher.

Build in time to go back

During planning we naturally focus our attention on moving learners forward. Although this is, of course, one of the priorities when it comes to teaching, we must also take time to reflect on what’s been taught.

I often come back to Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve when I’m planning, just to remind myself how quickly learners forget things.

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus produced his “Forgetting Curve” in 1885 which demonstrates the idea that the more you revisit something you have learned, the less quickly you forget (you can easily find more about his work online).

Taking time to consolidate learning means that over time your teaching and planning is much more likely to be effective. Building in opportunities for daily, weekly and monthly review – or retrieval practice – in some form can significantly combat the forgetting curve, making your teaching stick.

Although we are under tremendous pressure to get through our curriculum content, it is just as important in my eyes to build in opportunities to consolidate this learning when we plan.

Supporting learners

Factoring in how you will support learners during the lesson is as important as the stimulus and tasks you chose. Modelling and scaffolding are of paramount importance and should take varied forms.

Live modelling, annotated models, exam board models should all have a place in your planning, alongside different scaffolding approaches that assist learners on a detailed level (e.g. vocabulary banks, sentence starters) and on a summary level (e.g. writing frames, success criteria).

While giving support is vital, we must also consider the bigger picture and have in mind how we will gradually roll-back this support to ensure that the difficulty remains “desirable” for learners.

If we don’t roll-back the support, learners will become dependent on it, meaning that when they are tested or when they apply the learning independently they will likely be unsuccessful.

Having a good idea of the detail of your scaffolds at different points of the lessons and then considering how you will reduce them over time is key to building learning sustainably.

Planning for misconceptions

In an ideal world, we would teach students things and they’d get it first time. That way, our planning would be time equitable at all points. The reality is that we do not know how well they will take to what we plan.

As we get to know classes, we learn about what makes them tick and we can adapt our planning to suit.

Similarly, after teaching a topic year after year, you get an idea of the common misconceptions and can begin to plan to address these or even change your approaches to cut them out in the first place.

But regardless of these efforts, misconceptions will still arise and your planning must account for these.

As you plan, considering which misconceptions may arise is a good way to make learning effective and efficient. A good use of planning time is reflecting on what you think the stumbling blocks might be. By doing this, you can pre-emptively highlight points where learning may stall, thus ensuring pace is maintained and focus is kept.

Building in opportunities for you to check for understanding while you are teaching means that you can identify and overcome misconceptions as they arise.

Yes, this may hit momentum or slow down the class, but we don’t want to consolidate misconceptions by not addressing them there and then.

It is incredible how damaging it can be if we do not check for understanding, Remember: Students are great at looking like they’re doing exactly what they should be, while actually going down a completely different rabbit hole!

Don’t plan alone

Working collaboratively is an exceptionally good way to make planning more efficient. Not only does collaborative planning have obvious time-saving benefits, but it can also act as a good quality assurance method, allowing professional dialogue around teaching and learning.

Your ability to plan collaboratively will be dependent on your context, but even if you are teaching alone in a phase or subject area, try to network with other local teachers and make the most of their knowledge.

Planning with others also builds a sense of collective efficacy. We know from the work of Professor John Hattie and others that collective efficacy is one of the most high-impact factors on student outcomes and having a shared direction is a real motivator for teachers.

When you plan with others, there will still be a degree of personalisation required for you to be able to teach what has been planned, but if you have agreed principles and approaches before you start, this issue can quickly be overcome.

Last words

To make your planning more time efficient, think carefully about what you are actually planning. Don’t waste time on tonnes of resources if you don’t need them. Focus on the pedagogy, keep things simple and make sure your planning leads to long-term, sustainable learning. Most importantly, don’t try to take it all on alone.

Further listening


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