Lesson Plans Lecture
This chapter is in four parts. The first section defines and examines the need for there to be a lesson planning document. The second part of the chapter then goes on to analyse lesson plan content, documenting and discussing the elements which a lesson plan might reasonable contain. The third section returns to the need to plan in advance and develops upon the line of questioning introduced in the first section; in doing so, it provides a rigorous defence for the requirement to plan teaching sessions. The fourth and final main element allies lesson plans to wider learning processes, as well as to broader aspects of curriculum design and planning, such as might be found in schemes of work.
Short reflective exercises are found at the end of each of the four sections; use these to think consecutively and creatively about your own educational history, the value of planning to a teacher, and the positive impacts that well-prepared and organised learning will have on students.
Learning objectives for this chapter
By the end of this chapter, we would like you
- To understand what a lesson plan is
- To be able to explain the importance of good lesson planning
- To be able to compile workable lesson plans
- To understand the place of lesson plans in the hierarchy of curriculum planning documents
Part 1: What is a lesson plan?
A lesson plan sounds self-explanatory; a plan for a lesson. We might infer from this that a plan will contain at least three elements: an illustration of what the lesson is intended to address in terms of its subject matter; specification of the resources needed to support the learning to be undertaken in the session; information relating to how that learning might be assessed. As the chapter will indicate, a lesson plan is more involved than that, though these are the core components of a plan.
The word 'plan' acknowledges that this is work done in advance. Lesson planning is preparatory work for the session to be taught. We are perhaps encouraged to think of teaching as that which is done in the learning environment; the strategies used to communicate and assess learning in real-time. As its heart, this chapter shows that successful and organised teaching can be accomplished through thorough and considered preparation beforehand, and reflection after the teaching event, as well as the work done during actual class time. The lesson plan is central to all of this.
Lesson plans are not new. The early nineteenth-century German educational philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart was instrumental in advocating planning as part of an organised approach towards pedagogy (Hilgenheger, 1993). Herbart's work advocated a five-step planning approach encompassing preparatory work before the session, the presentation of new material to students, comparison and generalisation so that the learners may make sense of the new learning, then applying the fresh ideas to problem-solving situations, before a final summary and assessment stage (Kim, 2015). Nowadays, we are encouraged to think of a lesson plan as an integral aspect of the overall teaching process. It is good practice to always have the lesson plan for the session in-class, and to see the plan as a living document which will change over time, and which may even be altered to some extent in the teaching environment, should a rationale arise for making such a change.
Lesson plans are not always simple or straightforward documents to complete. As O'Bannon (2012) notes, a lesson plan is more time-consuming and difficult to complete than the actual teaching resultant from the plan. A good plan may take several hours to complete, and the time burden on new teachers or those taking on new classes is not inconsiderable. The positive impacts that an effective lesson plan has, though, are that teaching is prepared in advance, that it is organised and prepared, is reproducible (either by the teacher themselves in subsequent presentations of the course, or by others), and that it acts as evidence not only of preparedness and reflection, but of professional competence. Furthermore, the plan, and the effort and consideration that has gone into its design, frees the teacher up so that their efforts are rightly focused on delivery while in the teaching moment, and not on organisational or design matters.
A good lesson plan gives a teacher an effective way of delivering a lesson. Planning is not merely about the sequence of events in the class, but involves optimisation of resources and approaches, deliberation on the ways in which the class and the topic might interact, and the consideration of alternatives (Haynes, 2007). Planning is where much of the hard and time-consuming work of being a teacher is done. This is why devising and compiling lesson plans can feel arduous and difficult; this is where the 'heavy lifting' is done. The payoff for this work, though, is that lessons will benefit from the effort put in ahead of time, and that this will have a positive impact on the learning experience enjoyed by those in the classroom.
Think about different lessons where you have been a learner. Think about the differences between good and bad individual learning experiences which you have had. To what extent do you feel that the good lessons were as a result of effective preparation and planning, and that the less good ones indicated that the same planning had not taken place, or had been done less well?
Would you be confident in teaching a topic without planning in advance?
Would you be wise to attempt such unplanned teaching?
Would you want to be taught in an unplanned way now?
Part 2: What must a lesson plan include?
Lesson planning documentation may be specified by the teaching setting; templates to follow may be provided, with an expectation that these are used. It makes sense in such circumstances to work to provide at least the level and kind of information required by the setting, and to abide by the in-house conventions of layout and content for lesson planning. There are good reasons for doing so.
In the first instance, following the institution's guidelines means that the teacher is abiding by in-house standards and expectations. Also, if all staff members are using the same format for a lesson plan, then all are used to working to similarly laid-out session-related instructions; this makes covering lessons for others and checking lesson plans as part of classroom observations much more straightforward than if each teacher were to devise their own planning documentation. Invariably, using the in-house document saves time, as there will be a pre-formatted template to fill in. This removes the need to create one's own planning document, and the process of completing a lesson plan can be completed more speedily through familiarity with the template being completed, and being able to copy across elements which may be repeated from session to session.
However, lesson planning documents are subject to revision. This may come as part of annual planning cycles, or else in response to educational or administrative enhancements. Proactive teachers may wish to be involved in the generation of fresh institution-wide lesson plan templates to best ensure that a teaching voice is heard, and that the revisions are both sensible and straightforwardly achievable.
Whatever the specifics in terms of layout and design might be within a setting, there are constants which should always be present in a lesson plan. Haynes (2010) identifies twenty such elements; this section is based on ideas derived from Haynes' work on lesson planning.
1. Aims. Session aims should be stated clearly and simply, and must outline exactly what the teacher wants the learners to achieve that lesson. Use one sentence or clause per aim. A short, bulleted list may be used for clarity.
2. Objectives. An objective differs from an aim in that it states how the aim is to be achieved or assessed. One objective per aim is sensible. The use of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) objectives is sound practice. Use active verbs to describe objectives.
3. Assessment information. How is the learning to be assessed? This should relate directly to the objectives, which will be informed in turn by the lesson aims. Use multiple forms of assessment, taking into consideration the learning styles of the cohort being instructed.
4. Lesson content. The session content should be itemised, so that it is clear what parts of which subjects are being delivered in this session. This information should be derived from the scheme of work for the course (which we will discuss in chapter 3).
5. Teaching methods. How is the content to be delivered? What resources will be employed to support this delivery?
6. Expectations. Have a firm idea of the level of expectation of engagement with the topics being studied that session; communicating this to learners is a useful strategy, so that they know not only what is expected of them, but to what level. There may be expectations in non-learning contexts also, such as in group working and in standards of classroom behaviour. Haynes (2010) notes four levels of performance which might be of use in differentiating achievement. These levels are: beginning; emerging competence; proficiency; expertise.
7. Activities. Delivery should be supported by activity-based work. Outline the relevant activity and other aspects pertinent to the activity (resourcing or learning style, for example). Where possible, show diverse approaches to activities and to their assessment across the session.
8. Homework setting. If homework is related to an element of the session, integrate it to a relevant aspect of the session. Beware of using homework as a catch-up activity, as this can impact unfairly on slower-working or less able learners. Instead, set homework tasks which expand on the session content, rather than completing tasks when time has run short in the class. Furthermore, ensure that previously set homework is addressed in the following session; there needs to be firm commitment to homework as an important aspect of the wider programme of study. For this reason, setting homework which prepares learners for the next session, rather than that which is related to previous in-class work, can be a useful and productive strategy.
9. Differentiation. The lesson plan needs to show in what ways teaching is being differentiated. Examples might include additional activities to stretch and challenge more able learners.
10. Progression. Mention should be made of the session's links to both previous and future learning. This may involve reference to the relevant scheme of work.
11. Curriculum links. Draw connections across the wider curriculum being studied. This may be through referral to curriculum documentation. Where literacy, numeracy and ICT opportunities, the expression of British values, or wider links to citizenship-relevant concepts may present themselves, these should be identified and those opportunities taken.
12. Timings. Each element should have approximate timings, totalling the run-time of the session. Try not to be over-ambitious in planning. It's often better to have a steadily-paced class with an additional relevant activity as backup in case of time being available, rather than having to rush through delivery or roll intended content over to the next session.
13. Physical space. What space needs does the session have? Will learners be moving around (as in group work) during the class? Do particular room layouts work best for the topic / the cohort / to address behavioural issues / access requirements for support workers and wheelchair users? A seating plan may well be useful here (Bennett, 2014).
14. Resources. Itemise resources by their use per element of the session.
15. Language. If there are particular language-related issues (terminology to be explained, differentiation, translators or sign language support, for example) then ensure that they are identified.
16. Other staff members. Consider the effective use of support and other staff who are due to be present in the session. Involve them in the planning of sessions; colleagues should have a copy of the lesson plan with them in-session.
17. Risk assessment. If there are particular risks, or other factors which may relate to a teacher's duty of care to learners, then these should be identified in advance. Where relevant, a risk assessment may be appended to the lesson plan to evidence that such risks have been fully considered and appropriate action taken to mitigate against risk to those in the class.
18. Assessment. How is the learning to be assessed? What mechanisms are being used? Is there a summative assessment towards the end of the session? Itemise the assessment methods used, including any question-and-answer style interactions as appropriate for each stage of the lesson.
19. Evaluation. This is the first part of the reflective process. Record initial impressions of how the session went (both strengths and areas for development, if any). It may be appropriate to do this immediately after the session is delivered.
20. Review. This is the second part of reflection. Once the session has been evaluated, consider what practical steps will be taken to upgrade the session for its next presentation. Also consider what lessons regarding teaching will be brought forward to the follow-on class in this subject with the group.
This is a long list. Are there any surprises on it, or does each item's inclusion on the list make sense? Is there anything that you would add to the list?
- How would you incorporate welcoming the class, taking a register, and beginning the lesson into the plan?
- How comfortable are you with reflecting on your abilities in the moment, or immediately after completing a task?
- How might you ensure that lesson planning is a productive and positive process, rather than onerous and negative?
Part 3: Why plan lessons?
Sometimes it can feel as though lesson planning is an imposition onto a teacher's valuable time, and that the lesson plan is a document designed to create work for the teacher rather than making the teacher's life more straightforward. Such feelings are understandable, but this section will make a counter-argument, and will indicate the ways in which, though devising lesson planning documents can be detailed and time-consuming work, they are ultimately beneficial, not only to the teaching professional, but to their colleagues, as well as to the class being taught. As educationalist Graham Butt memorably stated, "Learning does not occur by chance" (2004, p. 2). It is in planning and preparation that learning takes place, not merely in the individual lesson, but over the whole course of study, supporting the learner through final assessments and beyond.
The section looks at lesson planning at three points: before, during, and after the teaching session in question. At each stage, the value of having a complete and updated lesson plan will be shown, with hints and tips provided along the way to make the lesson plan a dynamic and productive document.
The lesson plan is your guide to the session's content, so it makes sense to have the session planned well in advance of the delivery. If you are in the position of repeating a particular session either to multiple classes within a year, or else as part of delivering the same module year on year, then you will feel the benefit of having done this planning work in advance.
One effective tactic is to review the next week's upcoming teaching at the end of the previous teaching week. In this way, you can be assured that you will have resources in place, as well as refreshing your memory as to the session content, the activities, and other elements which may be particular to that session. An alternative strategy is to preview the next session as soon as practicable after teaching the previous lesson in the series. This has the advantage of linking the sessions together, and any follow-up work to be done in respect of the session which has just been delivered can be addressed in good time for the next lesson in the series.
Planning in advance highlights any potential resourcing or other issues, and gives time to address these before the class is taught. There is also an opportunity to review any reflective notes which may have been left after the previous session, or after any earlier presentations of the forthcoming taught session.
Time is precious as an educator, and last-minute planning can give rise to uncertainty and a perception, both of oneself and of others about you, of a lack of confidence as well as in issues related to preparedness. The best way to address this is to be fully prepared in advance; the lesson plan is the vehicle to organise thinking, resources, organisational issues and teaching content in advance. Both formative and summative assessment opportunities can be built into the lesson seamlessly, and activities will be better integrated into the flow of information through the teacher to the learners (Kyriacou, 2009).
If an issue does crop up before teaching - such as staff unavailability, sickness absence or a late room change - then these factors can be tackled with full focus and attention, as the lesson-specific content has been organised and is prepared. Furthermore, such preparedness supports one's colleagues. If another teacher has to step in to cover for absence, then the lesson plan, together with the resources made available in advance, acts as not only a guide to the session being covered, but also provides confidence to others in your teaching ability and in your wider professionalism. The alternative - in having poorly or incomplete planning evident, for example - can only provide a negative perception, as well as causing very real problems for the colleague who may be called upon to cover the class. Collegiality is important in a teaching environment; teachers need to be supported by their colleagues, and support them in return. Shared lesson planning resources, and the confidence that a solid plan gives another if covering a lesson or using it for reference purposes, can only support productive and effective co-working.
At perhaps its most basic, the lesson plan acts as an itinerary for the session being taught. The session content, its aims and objectives, and the activities and modes of assessment being used in support of testing that learning is taking place are all summarised within the lesson plan. Reference to the plan allows for this material to be made clear to the class, and for briefing to classroom assistants and support workers as appropriate. Just as important, though, is the way that an efficient and well-organised lesson plan frees up the teacher's mind from being distracted by the organisational and sequencing aspects of the lesson. Instead, the teacher's focus can be more fully on effective communication of the ideas at the heart of the session, of taking ad-hoc opportunities as they are presented for on-the-spot questions and other forms of engagement with the class, and on ongoing assessment that learning is taking place.
Classroom organisation, student management and engagement, and the effective delivery of a quality learning experience is hard work, demanding that the cohort being taught receive individual attention, focus on the task, and differentiation, all while communicating new ideas and principles, and working to ensure that they are being understood by learners. This is difficult, brain-taxing, non-stop work, and it requires the teacher's full attention and concentration. A well-prepared and executed lesson plan actively facilities this student-centredness by not only providing a bedrock of logical, organised, and sequenced input, activities and assessment backed up by a firm rationale for the delivery, but also by giving the teacher the assurance that the session has been carefully considered and prepared for in advance.
An old adage has it that no plan survives first contact in real-world situations, and the same may be said of lesson plans, too. We will all have situations where a session does not go as anticipated, or where the timings or flow of the staged progression of the session was found in practice to be problematic in some way. However, if the planning is practical or inadequate, then the teacher will be permanently fire-fighting in order to control sessions that are progressing awkwardly; if the planning is solid, then the teacher is best placed to take reassurance from their organisation to be able to deal with missteps which may occasionally make themselves apparent.
Organisation communicates itself to learners, and it gives them confidence; not just in the teacher's abilities, but that they are being given full and considered attention. No-one likes to be in the situation where a teacher is failing in their duty to control an unruly element in a class, or that the lesson feels as though it is not structured in a meaningful way. All of these can be disincentives to learn, and may provoke or reinforce less than helpful attitudes towards the teacher and/or the subject which they are delivering.
In teaching, to some extent subject knowledge - though undoubtedly important - is only of equal importance as the teacher's ability to deliver that knowledge effectively. We may all have memories of teachers in the past who were undoubtedly experts, but who could not get that expertise across. When we think back about those who were inspiring to us in the classroom, do we remember their subject ability, or do we remember how they were with learners? The answer is usually the latter. Teaching is built on communication, and the work of the educator in the class is to be focused on two-way communicative processes with their learners. Let the lesson plan bear the burden of the subject-matter of the lesson, and let you as the teacher - being freed of that burden - engage, stimulate, and inspire your learners.
Follow the plan in the lesson, though remember that it is only a plan; like a recipe for a dish, it is a guideline only. If inspiration strikes, from yourself or within the class, then use that moment to its fullest advantage. Do not feel that you must hold stubbornly to a pre-set itinerary if it is not wholly working, or if the lesson takes a turn for the better in unexpected ways. This may take time to work towards; when one is a new teacher, or delivering a subject for the first time, then use the lesson planning to give you the freedom to be creative and engaging spoken about above when in class; the lesson plan can be a safety net to give you that security.
Ideas for improvement and reactions to the session will come to you during the lesson; make a note (mental or otherwise) of these as they occur. At the session's end, it is good practice to make brief immediate reflective observations on the lesson plan. If you are co-teaching, then use the observations of other educators as well. It is important not to see the lesson plan as a disposable artefact which loses usefulness at the session's end. Instead, think of the ways in which the session might be improved, and make sure that your ideas are recorded while they are still fresh in the mind.
Of course, we will not always have the opportunity to make hard-copy revisions and updates to lesson plans immediately after a session; however, initial thoughts should be captured. Even if the observation is that the lesson went well and there are no refinements required, then leave a note to say so - a tick might be all that is required. Then when there is time to go back and review the lesson plan, perhaps as part of summer planning for the forthcoming academic year, then those initial observations can be applied and used to inform an updated lesson plan.
Reflection is a key element of the lesson planning cycle. We plan in advance, we deliver, and then we reflect on what has gone well, and what might require development for future presentations. Teaching is thus an iterative process. It changes each time we deliver the same topic. Any teacher who has taught the same sessions to different groups, be they in the same school year or else in successive years, will know that that identical session content can be experienced in very different ways by different groups. It may be that different versions of plans for the same content can be formulated. Some teachers have devised branching lesson plans which cover the same content though in different ways. The A or B versions of the plan are applied depending on the mood, profile, or context of the group being taught; both versions cover the same content, though do so in ways which offer the teacher options to best communicate the session content to the class.
After the lesson, there may be elements to carry forward to the next session. Ensure that these are recorded, and that this is dealt with in the following class. Over time, these questions may be incorporated into session content. Always follow up - it is too easy to have questions go unanswered if they have not been captured at the time, and providing answers not only links the current to the last class, but also further underscores your organisation and commitment as an educator.
This section has proposed that we think of lesson planning, and of the lesson plan itself, as a document in terms of its usefulness to us before, during, and after the lesson. The lesson plan organises content and delivery, acts as a reminder, and gives a roadmap to the assessment of learning. With this done in advance, the teacher is free in the session to focus on communication and on learner engagement. The plan is there to keep the session on track. Afterwards, the lesson plan, and engaging with it, is invaluable for stimulating and capturing reflection. Engaged reflective practice in this way will inform future presentations of the session, as well as with forthcoming engagements with the same cohort of learners.
Does the before/during/after breakdown make sense to you as a teacher? Think about occasions when you, as a learner, might have discussed a lesson with fellow students afterwards; was the experience useful to you as a learner? Now think of having that same discussion from a teaching perspective. Would that conversation (with yourself, or with colleagues) have been informative, and would you have worked to make adjustments for the future?
Reflection is not always about fault-finding. Have you ever thanked a teacher for an enjoyable or stimulating session? How would you feel as an educator to get immediate positive feedback from your own learners?
Part 4: How does a lesson plan fit into a wider learning process?
The lesson plan is simply part of a series of wider planning processes that operate at different levels. The lesson plan organises the learning taking place at the level of individual classes or sessions, but the content will be derived at least in part from two other sources: the scheme of work, and the syllabus.
It is perhaps useful to take the latter first. The syllabus, alongside other curriculum documentation, will specify what is to be delivered, and to what level, and featuring which means of assessment. For externally-assessed courses such as GCSEs, this information will come from examination boards such as Edexcel and AQA. This in turn will be written in response to governmental National Curriculum documents which give guidance on the range, depth, topics, and approaches to take when delivering learning to particular age groups and at particular levels of achievement.
The syllabus, however it is derived, then informs the scheme of work. A scheme of work is a planning document which translates the syllabus into a course of study, most practically by breaking the course content into session-sized chunks. Schemes of work will have generalised levels of detail about session content, but the function of a scheme of work is to portion out the whole course of study into a manageable and logical sequence for teaching and learning, with an aim to support learners through the final assessment processes.
Lesson plans are derived in turn from the scheme of work. The lesson plan gives detail on content and on teaching, the scheme of work provides an overview of how the syllabus is to be managed, and the syllabus/curriculum documentation is the master document from which assessment - as well as related educational functions such as Ofsted and internal quality audits and lesson observations - will be referable.
Ofsted guidance is that a lesson plan does not need to be in a classroom at the point of a lesson observation, as the inspectors' focus is on the quality and effectiveness of the learning, not on the paperwork intended to support it (Ofsted, 2016). That said, having a lesson plan, as well as other course-relevant documentation, in the classroom while teaching is sensible. Teachers might find that reference to Ofsted guidelines on their key indicators on lesson observation might well be instructive for lesson planning purposes (Blinko, 2010).
It is usual in formal UK education for the syllabus documentation to be provided for the teacher, but for the teacher to write their own schemes of work and lesson plans. Increasingly, syllabus documentation may include sample schemes of work. Devising their own planning materials, though, gives ownership of teaching to the educator, and offers a vehicle for both their sense of professionalism as well as their distinctiveness as a classroom practitioner. Some teachers provide a copy of the scheme of work, or at least an outline of it, to learners so that the class can appreciate the design element of the course as a whole, and can appreciate more fully the journey being taken from beginning to the end of the course of study.
Syllabus and National Curriculum documents are easily available online. Take a look at some in your subject area. Do they make sense to you? Is there support available in terms of planning and preparation for teaching?
Think about how you will teach and how you would prefer your learners to engage with your subject. What approaches and resources would you like to use?
Finally, a thought exercise: if you were to teach yourself in a classroom environment, how would you plan for this?
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