In my series of meandering posts I have looked at different types of conventional lesson planning. This post summarises where my planning is now, and how I ensure that my scheme of work for my comfortable A/A* Year 10 class differentiates appropriately from my C/D borderline Year 10 class.
As always, I want to talk about the principles of lesson planning:
1) It needs to be efficient: I cannot express this pertinently enough. Reading this thread on the TES (a site that has died since an ill-fated resdesign to encourage more use!) made me consider how long it takes me to plan a lesson, and why it takes me that long.
Over my ten years I have planned in various ways. I have planned a year ahead. I have planned a week ahead. I have planned two weeks ahead (not always great!). I have planned last thing in the afternoon/evening (that was PGCE time, when I only had Fridays free and got a little bit too tired 18 months into my NQT year). I have planned first thing in the morning (somewhat necessitated by the only photocopier being usable if the material was in the hands of the admin guardian prior to 7:00am that day).
I have planned a series of grammar starters every lesson for months. I have planned a series of discussion starters for even longer.
I have, sometimes, turned up to lessons with the vaguest of plans and run with the criteria I give. Usually this is when my weekend is taken up with family emergencies and life.
2) It needs to link with what others are doing. SoW exist in various formats, and are both useful and necessary for ensuring consistency across classrooms.
3) It needs to be robust enough to stand up to the rigours of real life, including demands elsewhere in the job, and having a bit of life happen, too.
4) It should be responsive to the class in front of you: the materials should be differentiated, or provided with enough support to help those students in an appropriate way – this includes material that is deliberately too hard for students.
5) It needs to work from assessments required so that bottlenecks are avoided.
6) It needs to break the illusion that learning an entirely linear path, beginning with lesson 1 and ending in lesson 10,12,15 or more.
7) It needs to ensure that grammatical skills are covered by all students, including opportunities for them to recover skills that they have either already been taught, or should already know.
8) It needs to builds vocabulary acquisition skills.
9) It needs to build an understand of spelling rules.
10) It needs to build the cultural context necessary for students to understand canonical items of literature and their influence on the world.
11) It needs to return to the foundation of creating and analysing, so the same terms and skills are revisited and developed on a frequent basis.
The foundation layer
As you can see from above, the foundation of literacy upon which a scheme of work exists is somewhat unchangeable. The foundation skills of:
1) Acquiring new vocabulary and understanding spelling,
2) Establishing or enhancing a framework for both creating and analysing language,
3) Developing a personal grammar that is adaptable, accurate and actually useful,
need to be present in any scheme of work. Yet how can they be planned appropriately across 3-6+ MTPs across an entire year? How can the same worksheets/resources lead to inspiring grammar learning?
This, for me, needs to happen across a pattern of starters.
1) Maintenance starters: spelling sheets, vocabulary sheets, responding to marking in books, updating personalised rubric books. These four types of starter are rotated on a weekly basis so each month, or so, students have time to update each of these. They have 10-15 minutes to do so. They will also have a homework once a month where they are expected to update all of the above.
2) Inference starters: these focus on specific inference skills on a weekly basis. Something inference/connotation based needs to be completed to hone these skills.
3) Question starters: these have proved to be the trickiest type of starter to implement. For KS4 and KS5 students, a supported SOLO question-creation sheet is provided, and for KS3 students, a Thunks activity is sometimes used. This is something upon which I need to work (and perhaps needs a whole-school focus, too).
4) Grammar starters: this is key starter that is used once per week. My grammatical starters are quite simply from workbooks, and often older ones. Photocopied in an A5 format and glued in (expensive, but necessary!), my students enter the lesson with all engaged immediately on its completion. Marking takes place afterwards using a projector camera, and I mark afterwards, too. I have spent an incredible amount of time creating starters from the usual books (Red Hot Grammar Starters) from the late 2000s, but I found that workbooks had structure, rigorour and pitching needed to make these starters truly useful.
These are the key points about these starters:
a) The Grammar Starters can be planned. There is a structure of grammar that can be implemented for each class depending on their level. This can be planned from a pool at the start of the year, and allocated for every week before lessons even begin. They can be adjusted on an as-need basis, but largely these are static. These grammar starters can be linked with specific Grammar Lessons. These are principle lessons that, for me now, focus on two things:
– Creating for students a series of sentence structures (an American ideal that is well-documented) that they identify and apply in their own writing
– Students to address personally identified aspects of grammar. They watch a personalised video (from this website!), completed a modified KWL chart, and then teach another group of students what they have learned.
b) Inference Starters can be planned: They can be from the texts currently studied, or the texts of the students’ choice, or from differentiated worksheets.
c) Maintenance starters require little planning: Students can complete the type of maintenance that they wish, or follow the recommendation for that day. In addition, the rhythm of this learning can be adjusted so that students can teach/gamify/apply the maintenance starter for that week. This is somewhat useful for enthusing students in something that is, at times, necessarily arduous.
d) These starters appear in the SoW as only their name. How you deliver the starter depends on either that day, the perceived mood of the class, their prior achievement, the content of that lesson (or sequence of lessons) and more. The point being is that they provide the foundation for the lesson, and that they allow a variance of delivery to match the learning intentions of the lesson.
The core layer
The core of a scheme of work needs to be the content shared, and the assessments to which the students build towards.
Just because some (read: all) students (read: people) struggle with language manipulation and use does not mean that they are not capable of dealing with the ‘big ideas’ and philosophies that higher-level language manipulation entails. Canonical context, albeit differentiated, needs to be offered to all students.
Assessments should ideally test some of the key skills that students that focussed upon in that term. Assessing their ability to write persuasively, or to analyse a speech (or to analyse an absence of punctuation in a narrative) when they have not discussed these skills is somewhat problematic.
Assessments should also test skills: that is, the application of knowledge. Reading assessments are often graded numerically, with achievement in easier/more concrete AFs (AF2 – quote harvesting) granted as much credit towards an overall score as the more difficult/abstract AFs (AF6 – purpose). I am a great believer in the APP structure that each question has a qualitative definition of the type of answer. Take, for example, a 5-mark AF3/AF5 analytical question.
0-1 mark would be some simple comment, with no evidence used at all.
1-2 marks would be a simple comment with some evidence used to support.
2-3 marks would be developing commentary with multiple evidence used to support.
A secure 3 marks would be multiple evidence used with developing analysis.
4 marks would be multiple evidence used with alternative interpretations
5 marks/full marks would be multiple pieces of evidence used precisely with some analysis that moves beyond the remit text (while some still remaining rooted within in).
In truth, the marking for this question should then perhaps perhaps a levelling activity with answers for that question falling into a category (Developing, Secure, High – 5c/5b/5a, with the high perhaps being optional). The student will be given a mark sheet with 4 possible sublevels of progress, and all the AFs will be covered by these qualitative judgements. The overall judgement will then be given by the class teacher, with optional moderation possible.
There are issues with this – many departments use numerical scores for reading tests. It is more difficult to quantify and analyse reading data. Some iGCSE English Language papers involve answering a series of super-charged SATs questions, rather than writing multiple developed answers/questions. Also, the qualitative judgements can unnerve some, and create a perceived greater marking workload. However, a skilled marker can judge a KS3 answer rapidly (in moments, really), and give a precise judgement that will be accurate across the course of a piece of paper. The recording of each individual AF for each individual student for each individual assessment would take time, and I am not certain as to how useful that would be – it does not inform easily teaching.
Despite these difficulties, there are benefits worth considering in such assessments.
The extension layer
For me, making a scheme of work responsive to the students requires the foundations in place, and an understanding of three lesson types.
Content-Based Lessons: I call these ‘DARTs’ Lessons (Direct Activities Related to Texts). Primarily academic, these form the bulk of lessons for students. They involve students being exposed, provoked and supported with their engagement with key texts. Out of 4 lessons a week, they might form 2-3 lessons that the students experience.
Principle Lessons: These are more abstract, academic lessons in which students focus upon a particular aspect of the creating or analysing framework in order to develop their abilities in this. These work closely, too, with the personalised rubric booklets created for each student.
Full-English Lessons: These form two functions. Firstly, they act as a connection between the DARTs lessons, which are necessarily bookish, and the Principle Lessons, which are necessarily academic. They involve manipulating or creating texts in a different context (such as making films, or improvising a discussion of a theme). These are based, in English lessons, under the headings of the VAK, and ‘Craft’. The students choose these lesson types as a class every 6-8 weeks or so. Their choices are placed in the SoW at the top, and are placed usually a week before, depending how that week has progressed.
So, for example, this year I taught a sequence of lessons with my KS3 classes that were heavily content and principle lesson based. While my students became somewhat fatigued by the relentlessness of our analytical practice, many moved from a shaky ability to take a text and analysing evidence independently to doing so with more relative decisiveness. This sequence last about a week and a half (6 lessons). After this, with continued with Full-English based lessons where we analysed the same textual extracts (of which they had an intimate knowledge) by storyboarding and debating.
I like to think that my judgement of the rhythm of lessons is ideal in that it leads to learning, and that it leads to inspired students. Whether it does, or not, can only be judged by anonymous, qualitative feedback.
How do I actually put this together?
To put this together, you need the following documents:
1) A whole-year planning document. This includes every single class, every single week, with school events and holidays recorded. This is opened first for that contextualised glance.
2) A MTP for every class you teach, with only that class present. Starters are already allocated – a few words as the type of lesson, and perhaps the criteria for reference, to be recorded. This has evolved from my once-epic ‘Planning for Teachers’ Document that grew way too unwieldy.
3) The ‘Planning for Students’ PowerPoint upon which every Learning Objective is planned, and personalised criteria for all frameworks for all classes is already hyperlinked (the biggest timesaver, that).
I can, in about 60-90 minutes, plan an entire week of rigorous lessons, taking into account the rhythms and considerations mentioned above. That is all classes for the entire week. This is considerably quicker than my practice even 2-3 years ago, and more cohesive and effective.
What does take the time, of course, is the sourcing and resourcing of each lesson. If I am to say something: I do not stop my planning to source that lesson. One of the biggest issues with planning is that each time you stop to source or resource a lesson, you affect the bigger picture of that lesson. I used Wunderlist to indicate all the sourcing and resourcing necessary for that week, and then aim to complete that at a judicious time.
I print all my resources at once for the week ahead. Having everything together is essential.
I photocopy all my resources at once for the week ahead. The whole sourcing and resourcing process takes between 45 and 120 minutes per week. This term I have taught 4 texts I have never taught, and have had to create and adapt resources. I am fortunate that great resources already exist in my department: separating the learning objective/lesson intention planning from the resourcing means that the epic task of realistic weekly planning between 100-300 minutes becomes feasible.
This type of planning is not for an NQT, necessarily. It stems from my disliked experience of having taught the same SoWs for several years near the start of my career without the feeling that my teaching was necessarily improving (although PM material suggested otherwise!).
I feel this type of planning empowers, even though it is somewhat demanding:
It requires constant judgements to be made about the mood and rhythm of learning.
It requires the teacher to aim to inspire the students: students need to be challenged and connected to what they are doing, and why they are doing it.
It requires much printing and photocopying of material: for the larger classes and limited administration of poorly-resourced schools, compromises have to be made.
It requires an fully-fledged framework for what students need to learn in your subject already created at the start of the school year to which they will return.