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How to plan a lesson – Lesson planning is an art form so let’s shout about it more

Is the answer to fixing education and workload as simple as getting rid of all the excess work teachers have on their plates? Matt Lewis thinks maybe it is...

  • How to plan a lesson – Lesson planning is an art form so let’s shout about it more

Marking, conversations with parents, subject leader work, staff meetings, SLT get-togethers, printing resources, SEN catch-ups, displays, replying to emails, classroom tidying, running school clubs, assessment… All of these familiar elements demand a little bit more meat from the already skinny bones of teachers.

We spend our lives wading through deep paperwork swamps. There’s so much work to plough through before we can even think about the important business of planning lessons.

In an industry where the main purpose is to pass on knowledge, this is, quite frankly, insane.

I think I have the answer – one that just might fix education and create an industry full of innovation and creativity. It’s a big claim, I know, but it’s a simple enough idea – get rid of all the excess work we have placed on our teachers’ plates.

Firstly, let’s get rid of marking. Feedback is crucial, but how many of us mark as if it is some sort of evidence that knowledge has been passed on, or because it’s what parents expect to see when they look at their child’s books?

Secondly, let’s cut out all tests. It’s too much pressure on both children and teachers and narrows the curriculum.

OK, perhaps that’s slightly wishful thinking, but bear with me. Imagine if once the bell sounded at the end of the day, the halls and classrooms of our schools were turned into planning rooms.

With no other paperwork to weigh us down, we could collaborate with our colleagues to formulate the most dynamic lesson plans possible.

It’s well-known that Ofsted doesn’t want to see planning, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t best practise or that it should be forgotten. Let’s make it a celebrated art form.

All schools have at least some capacity to take control and ease teacher workload, thus creating an environment where planning and connectivity are the core focus.

I urge you to order pizzas, put on some music, cover your desks in A3 sheets of paper and start collaborating with colleagues on lesson plans.

Scribble ideas down and keep asking each other how the children will connect with this particular idea.

Be aspirational with your ideas – life-size dinosaur models, anyone? – then see what learning can be extrapolated from that.

Be innovative and wherever possible, incorporate technology.

Revisit plans you’ve already written and get into the routine of redrafting them until they’re perfect.

Let’s celebrate the artistry that goes into lesson plans by shouting about them and sharing them. This isn’t pro-wrestling; we’re not protecting the industry by pretending teachers make it up on the spot.

The truth is, it’s hard to compete with the media diet children beam into their brains on a daily basis, but by freeing up teachers we can create adventures that pupils will remember forever.

Going on a learning journey alongside 30 of your friends is a unique experience that can’t be replicated on a touchscreen. Let’s make teaching an exciting industry to be a part of; let’s frame teachers as the talented artists they really are. 

My lesson planning mantras

  • You have a year to teach your class – too much information at the start of a unit of work can overwhelm pupils. A slow start to a series of lessons is fine.
  • Start with your learning objectives and make sure they have context. This will help you with the rest of your plan.
  • Use several lessons to ‘build’ an exciting imaginary city or world with your class, then create your learning around this.
  • Do your lessons incorporate a magical moment that children will remember and discuss at home? Not every lesson can be mind blowing, but the more ‘wows’ you can create, the more outstanding your lessons will be.
  • If you’re finding planning sessions difficult, step away from your laptop and go back to basics. Doodle your ideas down on paper and go from there.
  • Give yourself room to plan by setting aside a substantial chunk of time for it in your schedule.
  • Take ownership – these are your plans and you should be proud of them. Don’t fall into the habit of relying on downloadable lessons.
  • Not all lessons will go perfectly, and some will be outright disasters. Jot down your thoughts on your written plans so next year you can redraft them.
  • There’s no set-in-stone lesson structure. The more you play with the order, the more interesting your lessons will be.
  • Always, always aim to connect with your class. How will this lesson capture pupils’ imaginations? They’re constantly bombarded with computer screens and digital imagery, so what is going to make this lesson stand out?

Matt Lewis is a deputy head and creator of Planbox, a lesson planning app for teachers. Find out more at educrafti.com.

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