How to teach: Planning

Starting from my two principles of learning:

  1. Have your students learned what you wanted them to learn?
  2. How could you improve on this, so more of the students learn more of what you wanted them to learn?

My view is that the one aspect of what a teacher does that best encapsulates these principles is sequence planning.

Like many a teacher starting out in the last ten years, my planning has tended to focus on individual lessons of an arbitrary length determined by the school I have been working in. Many a time I have spent hours and hours planning a lesson, I think this has been because the view that discrete lessons were of fundamental importance in teaching had permeated the profession. The foolishness of this has been epitomised by the type of lesson observations common to many, and possibly most schools, in which teachers are required to meet a large set of tick-box requirements based on someone’s (maybe an SLT or educational consultant’s) view of what Ofsted might want. I have even been told that my observed lessons should be designed to appeal to ‘an old teacher who doesn’t really know anything about maths’! Typically, although there might be some nonsense about group work, Bloom’s taxonomy or ‘engagement’, these requirements might point to some good practice: is the teacher assessing the student? Is the behaviour conducive to learning? However, in my experience, there have been so many boxes to tick, that you’d only meet the important objectives over the course of about 10 lessons.

It has only been as I have gained experience and become more confident that I have adjusted my planning to what has been apparent to me: students don’t learn in an isolated way from lesson to lesson, they need to build on and revisit their learning on a topic over a sequence of 8 to 10 lessons. The best learning occurs when the planning is well thought out and includes thought about the curriculum to be taught, planned assessment, discussion of good practice, the flexibility to respond to your assessments of students’ learning, and is an improvement, based on feedback, from the last time you taught it.

I would like to invest more time in sequence plans than on any other aspect of teaching. I think they can be worked on, modified and improved over the course of a 40 year career. I have written about a maths sequence plan, and it probably appears to be very complicated. This is because, for the this topic, my plan is a culmination of years of thought and experience. I understand that Doug Lemov advocates something called the ‘shortest path’ in which teachers use the most simple and obvious way they can think of teach a topic. I think there is generally merit in what he champions, and I’d be interested to read this as a counterpoint what I suggest. To be clear, I do not envisage teachers spending huge amounts of time on sequence plans, I think they are a far more time-sensitive way of planning than individual lesson plans, and I think they only becomes complex, and not in a bad way, as you develop them over your career.

As an experienced teacher, it is possible to not put much thought into planning, and to rely on your instinct to teach well. This is something that is not possible at the beginning of one’s career. These final points allow me to produce a schema summarising the points I have made:

schema planning

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