The other week I wrote about The Black Dog of Planning and how planning gave me the heebie-jeebies. Since then, I’ve read a couple of other blogs concerning planning and the sometimes onerous levels that some teachers have to go to produce a plan and it’s made me think about how much time can be wasted on overly detailed lesson plans.
What’s the problem with planning?
Planning is important. Do not forget that. It guides your teaching, directs a sequence of lessons and shows that you know what you are doing but that’s all it should be – a guide and some direction, not an overly prescriptive opus. When I started out (as, I am told many NQTs do, my planning was extraordinarily overly detailed) but as you get more experienced you can drop a lot of that detail and hold the additional information in your head as you deliver it. You might forget some pearl of wisdom from your plan but, to be honest, that happens even when you’ve ascribed everything onto paper anyway – it’s not like it’s good for the flow of a lesson to stop everything and check that you’ve used all the terms in the Key Vocabulary box.
This old post on The Modern Miss encapsulates it perfectly and I especially like the following paragraph:
SLT don’t need long plans, and Ofsted say they don’t want them. So what’s the point? What can really be gained by spending as long typing a lesson plan out, as it does to teach the thing? Some schools insist that plans are printed out and handed to SLT or the Head weekly. The only purpose of this that I can see, is so that they can file them away, thus giving the impression that they’ve done lots of work as the shelves in their offices are buckling under the strain of 40 tonnes of pulped forest.
And it’s true. Ofsted actually say that ‘it does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.’ They are actually saying they DON’T CARE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE! You could write it on the peel of a banana but as long as it’s effective, they don’t care!
It’s inevitable that if you have ten detailed boxes to tick (eg subject, objective, starter, main teaching, plenary, differentiation x3, resources, key vocabulary, prior learning, next steps, directed support) you are probably spending more time on details that the planning contains rather than its effectiveness.
But the fear is that if all that detail is not there in black and white for all to see, it doesn’t exist and you will be hauled over the coals for it! So it is decreed, from above, that all teachers need to include this almost spurious information in what should otherwise be a simple snapshot of your intended lesson.
A fresh approach:
I taught in a school a few weeks ago that used this as their planning:
OK, I wouldn’t have wanted to start out using something that basic but just look how simple it is – a whole week of planning contained on one A4 page! Certain lessons (eg PSHE or phonics etc) would warrant their own individual plans but otherwise each lesson on that overview would be given coherence and detail by the resources and interactive whiteboards and any competent teacher would know the differentiation for each child in their class and be able to adapt their teaching accordingly. Think of the time saved producing that one sheet instead of x number of pages and who knows how many more boxes.
And just to sweeten the joy:
In my first school, I was horrified to learn that we had to hand our annotated planning in to the SLT (duplicates of course, as we had to retain our planning and the school had to ensure the photocopying spend was twice what it actually needed to be). Consequently, a number of teachers annotated their planning retrospectively, at the end of the day, not because it was useful but to show that they annotated their planning.
Now re-read that sentence and consider the stupidity and futility of that exercise.
Now you might think I’m just moaning without practical solutions but I suggest that a lot of the (literal) boxes do not need to be ticked. A good teacher knows the class and knows who needs what support and differentiation. A good teacher will know if something has worked and what the next steps are. A good teacher does not need a box for resources, key vocabulary, next steps, shoe colour, trouser length or number of pets. By all means let a teacher add detail to the planning if it helps but don’t force everyone into that same box.