Home > Uncategorized > A Reflection On Planning

A Reflection On Planning

I remember my first few days at university very well. The first 2 lectures have stayed with my clearly ever since, the first was entitled ‘Fame and Power’ and was a light hearted introduction to teaching revolving around how a teacher will enjoy both of these attributes through their life. The second was called ‘The Teaching and Learning Cycle’. The lecture focused around a small diagram of arrows that went around a circle and connected 4 words. Plan, teach, assess, evaluate. Cunningly there was no evident beginning of ending and the words were deliberately arranged in that order but with none being obviously first.

We were told that planning was critical and that it informed teaching. Teaching caused learning which was then measured by assessment. The whole process was then evaluated and informed the next planning session. We were told about how the cycle might have different starting points such as a quiz (assessment) that would inform planning, or an activity that we happened to chance upon as appose to plan, gave us information that fed into the next phase of the planning. I remember clearly thinking that this was crux of things and what must form the basis of everything I did.

The reality, as I discovered fairly soon after this, was something more like this;

1) Take out relevant scheme and identify next outcomes or objectives to be covered

2) Find activities that relate to this objective and think of some clever ways of presenting it. Maybe something kinesthetic!

3) Deliver prepared activities during alloted time, furiously trying to keep ‘pace’ up and feeling guilty that your starter went on for 15 minutes and the plenary sort of disappeared into morning break

4) Move on to the next thing. We need to get through this, after all

5) Wait up to six weeks. Give child QCA assessment paper. Spend half term marking said papers

6) File papers and return to step 1 wondering why ‘yellow’ group hadn’t moved on a single level, and some had ‘gone down’. (is it just me or does yellow always relate to the lower ability?)

It seems so obvious and yet I have never been able to quite make it work. Apparently I am not alone in this and so our school has begun to experiment with a new planning format.

In the future learning will be negotiated with children, but for now we still begin by choosing objectives to cover. Then we consider the children’s existing knowledge and skills before developing a ‘differentiated flow of learning’. Rather than beginning with Monday’s starter and the working through each main and plenary until Friday, we list the steps of the learning. In order to achieve this outcome the children will have to be taught this, learn this, practice that. Then we work through each step on the list, moving on as the class progresses within the available timetable slots.

I have been using this system for a few days and feel it would be useful to reflect on it. My first reaction to it was, well brilliant! It seemed obvious. Stop measuring my success by whether I managed to finish the starter in 10 minutes and measure it by how much learning took place. My second reaction, which happened at about 8:30am on the first day was, blimey, I am not altogether sure what I am doing today, it kind of depends on how the children take it, which was unnerving to say the least.

The reality, I have found has had a different focus. Generally I have been able to predict roughly what the children would get through each day and feel adequately prepared. The real issue has been this gnawing concern that, we are not covering enough, or the pace felt a bit off today. After thinking about this for a while I have begun to realise that what I miss is the sensation of the lesson moving on as in my mind we move from starter, to main to plenary (ahem, playtime). I find my self asking, how long have I been doing this, I really need to move on. It seems that what I need to build is a new barometer. One that measures the progress of learning as appose to physical time but it is a tricky habit to break.

It is a similar story with pace. Pace, our new head told us last night, is the energy in a lesson. It was odd, I thought to myself, that I had never really sought a definition of pace before. It has been on my radar for a long time. Lesson observations refer to it, and sometimes I have been told that my lessons had good pace. Yet I had never exactly thought about what it meant. Again, pace has become a measurement of speed. Did we get through the lesson, or did we get bogged down? By seeing it as energy the whole thing becomes much more child focused. Simple. Except that in my general experience, the longer you spend on something a child is stuck on (especially a child with low self esteem) the faster the energy drops away.

To keep pace up, we will have to keep more of our children engaged with more of their counterparts for longer. Deeper and more meaningful discussions. Stick-to-it-ivness and the determination to solve a problem or find a solution. The ability to tackle a problem, break it into chunks, discuss it, explore avenues of enquiry and come back from a dead end.

Pretty standard life skills except that they don’t come naturally. Developing these skills is clearly part of the big strategy at the school. Project Based Learning is beginning to tentatively teach planning, problem solving, and determination. Kagan structures which I am beginning to hear about, are clearly intended to develop the pace element as described above. The idea that we could make all of these elements work harmoniously and at last arrive at a structure that actually resembles the teaching and learning cycle is tantalisingly exciting. A clear pathway is beginning to emerge through the gloom of how we can create a environment of child focused, learning orientated school activity. I hope I can keep things together in the meantime!

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