3.2.2 Lesson Plans
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. 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. The word 'plan' acknowledges that this is work done in advance. Lesson planning is preparatory work for the session to be taught. We are 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. Successful and organised teaching can be accomplished through thorough preparation beforehand, and reflection after the teaching event, as well as the work done during actual class time. 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).
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.
In the first instance, following the institution's guidelines means that the teacher is abiding by in-house standards. Also, if all staff members are using the same format, 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 more straightforward. Whatever the specifics in terms of layout and design might be, there are constants which should always be present in a lesson plan. Haynes (2010) identifies twenty such elements:
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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 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. 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 on the session content, the activities, and other elements which may be particular to that session. Planning in advance highlights any potential resourcing or other issues, and gives time to address these before the class is taught. 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. 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.
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. A 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 on ongoing assessment that learning is taking place. Let the lesson plan bear the burden of the subject-matter of the lesson so you - being freed of that burden - can engage, stimulate, and inspire your learners. Follow the plan in the lesson, though remember that it is only a plan. If inspiration strikes, 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.
Ideas for improvement and reactions to the session will come to you during the lesson. At the session's end, it is good practice to make brief immediate reflective observations on the lesson plan. 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. Reflection is a key element of the lesson planning cycle. We plan in advance, deliver, then reflect on what has gone well, and what might require development for future presentations.
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.
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.
The syllabus, alongside other curriculum documentation, will specify what is to be delivered 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 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. 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.
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