Improving Teaching through Live Planning

In each of my two previous schools, the emphasis placed on writing detailed lesson plans was great. In one, five-way differentiation had to be made clear in all lessons in every subject; in the second, it was expected that differentiation for groups of children would be denoted by the use of different font styles and colours. In both cases, the intentions for requesting such precise work were good, but in both cases the effort required to produce the planning also rendered them counterproductive; once they were written, there was very little time to prepare the resources needed to deliver the lessons they promised to deliver.

Common to both schools was the expectation that all planning should be done a week in advance. This is a concept I have struggled with from both teaching and leadership perspectives. As a teacher I know my starting point on a Monday morning; beyond that I can speculate about what learning might happen over the ensuing week but no more than that. As such, a five day plan is no better than a five day weather forecast; it is likely to change or even become irrelevant as each day passes. As a leader, a five day plan informs me of the learning a teacher intends to facilitate over a week but no more than that.

In my current school, I am developing an interest in what I am calling visual or ‘live’ planning. I believe that the process will help to reduce teacher workload (and therefore improve efficiency); that it will allow school leaders to monitor planing which shows what is actually taught; and that most of all, children will benefit because their teachers will have more time to prepare high quality learning experiences instead of pristine paper-based planning.

The premise for live planning is very simple; I hope that many teachers already use it. On a Monday, a Notebook (in my case) document is opened; pages are added to support learning through each stage of a lesson: objective, success criteria, models, key vocabulary, a timer, plenary questions etc. On Tuesday, that document is added too and on Wedneday, Thursday and Friday also. At the end of the week, the file is printed and any additional notes are made on it; if anybody needs to see it, the step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson teaching and learning that has taken place in my class is immediately clear. I don’t have a speculative document about what might happen, I have a concrete document showing what did happen.

So, ‘live’ or ‘visual’ planning; reduce the amount of time you spend creating paper trails; make planning real; and give the time taken away from children’s learning back to them.

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6 thoughts on “Improving Teaching through Live Planning

  1. Yes,yes and yes again. Handing in weekly plans ahead is indeed counterproductive. Planning is for the teacher and therefore will be constantly changed and adjusted to meet the needs if the children. I’m not even sure how useful it is to collect in…Medium term planning yes, but other than for monitoring purposes, weekly plans once done have little further use. Far too much time wasted on paper trails in education. Your closing statement should be taken on board by any who are obsessed by such bureaucracy!

  2. We use something called ‘cheese wedge’ planning in Early Years (named by Marion Dowling), just as you explain – the thick end of the wedge is Monday’s planning, complete, then on Monday you do Tuesday’s planning, Tuesday you do Wednesday etc.
    If you have something you need to plan ahead (freeze gloves full of water, buy fruit for tasting or a trip out) this can be put on the planning in advance.
    Differentiation is also ‘live’ – those children who need stretching on the day are added to the planning. Similarly, those activities that are not as successful are deleted from the planning with an appropriate reason (don’t do this activity with the youngest boys on a Thursday morning!).
    There’s more information in my book ‘Observation, Assessment and Planning’.

    Best of luck with encouraging others to do the same. I think its definitely the way forward!

  3. I too have worked in a “hand in your planning a week in advance, highlighted in 3 different colours” school and hated the constriction I felt and the lack of flexibility I was allowed in responding to children as they were learning. I now work in a school where planning is not routinely scrutinised; where there is professional trust and where I can plan as I go along, in response to the children and the learning of the previous day. There is no standard format and we can work from MTPs for most subjects. So why does my planning still need to be written out in great detail, in a format I do not like? Simply, because my TA does not understand the 5 minute plan I prefer, no matter how many times I explain it, and needs step by step instructions in advance of each lesson. I often ask myself who I am planning for and have come to the unsatisfactory conclusion that it is, predominantly, my TA!

  4. Unless a teacher is visibly failing or in initial training, I don’t ask to see any planning ever. They can write it on the back of a fag packet for all I care. But I look at pupils’ books and scrutinise marking every 3 weeks or so. Much much more effective. I’d be appalled if someone planned a week’s work in any detail in advance- especially in subjects like maths where 2 minutes in you realise you are going to have to eat your lesson plan because you’ve massively under or over pitched! Can’t believe some heads waste precious marking time with such futile displacement activity. As you say, your notebook slides should be enough should I really did want to monitor planning. Which I don’t. If the outcomes are great, why should I care if you made it all up as you went along? Have ofsted ever asked to see planning? No. But they do look at pupils books. Heads should spend their time where it has most impact and that’s rarely at planning.

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