How do you plan lessons?
In November 2017, I challenged the school inspection process in England that trainee teachers should not have to write detailed lesson plans. I am pleased to report that there is a step forward in this unnecessary burden placed upon trainee teachers. Sean Harford, national director of schools, OfSTED writes: “… those in teacher training, we are removing the need for inspectors to see lesson plans of trainees. Changes will be in the updated handbook ready for the summer  term Inspections.”
As a trainee, you will probably be expected to write a detailed lesson plan for your teaching course. At this stage in your career, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to lay out in detail each, that first lesson is daunting and of course, you want to be prepared, but where do you start? As a visiting university tutor for trainee teachers, for years I’ve advocated that lesson planning is a process of thought, not a form-filling exercise. Of course, this stance may not apply to everyone I have mentored, nor each context in which the trainee teacher is working. Context is key.
So, regardless of why, how and what you currently do, with this good news, here is my advice for trainee teachers.
1. Get to know the students you’ll be teaching
Before planning your lesson you need to be sure about who it is you are going to teach. Of course, you need the basics – year group, subject, set – but what other information can you find out about the individuals in your class? What are their names? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Are there any children with SEN? What are their likes and dislikes. Look at their data, but also ask other teachers who teach these students for anecdotal evidence. You must triangulate and build up a full picture.
2. Find out what they know
This is particularly important if you are teaching a one-off lesson. Find out what was covered in the last few lessons they have had. You don’t want to be repeating content they’ve already studied or steaming ahead to something they won’t understand. Find out what they learnt and ensure the content you decide to teach fits chronologically with the previous lessons.
3. Decide what your aim for the lesson is
Avoid lesson planning traps – particularly ones that focus on interesting activities. One may come across (or try to find) a ‘good’ activity and then reverse engineer the lesson objectives to match the likely outcomes of the activity. Over time this can become an exercise in keeping students busy.
4. Focus on the reality
The need for planning lessons will never go away – and if you look in the plan section of our Learning Policy, we encourage our teachers to have ‘evidence of planning’. It doesn’t mean a one-off lesson plan. The main issue with lesson plans I think, is that what happens in the plan is not what happens on the ground.
5. Keep the objectives simple
Too many activities? Too many objectives? Failure to break down the objective and then realise during the lesson you are trying to cover too much, or that you have not differentiated? Or lead a ‘starter’ that works against the intended learning? Over-planning generally leads to ‘under-learning’.
6. Focus on the learning
Too often, lesson planning begins without focus on the learning, planning without considering where students are and where the teacher wants them to get to; the wider picture is not examined. Why not consider;
- Where are the students starting from?
- Where do you want the students to get to?
- How will you know when they are there?
- How can you best help them get there?
Finally and perhaps most importantly …
7. Don’t try and do everything!
You are a trainee teacher in your first few terms of teaching. There is a lot to learn. It’s better to focus on one or two elements that you want to practice and refine in this lesson, than to try to cram in everything you’ve learnt so far and not really do any of them properly. If you refine for example your AfL techniques in this lesson, then next time they will come more naturally to you and you can move on to adding in a new starter technique without overloading yourself.
We’d love to hear about your trainee year of teaching – how your first lessons go, your successes, your challenges… Comment below or tweet us @TeacherToolkit using #TTkitTrainee. And good luck!