Angela Dewsbury looks at the role of teacher planning in successful lessons and learning events

Effective learning in school doesn’t happen by accident. Good lessons have to be planned for. But you can over-egg a pudding, and too much precision in planning can make learning fall flat. There needs to be space for magic moments in learning when pupils’ own ideas can take the teaching and learning (T&L) to a different level.

Flexibility depends on good planning. You have to know enough to venture into the unknown. Design has to be balanced with spontaneity. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Well-planned lessons help pupils learn and achieve worthwhile things.

Lesson planning isn’t just for novices. Any of your staff who feel they don’t need to bother and can just deliver learning on the hoof need to be reminded otherwise, no matter how experienced they are. There is much to take account of, and without an organised approach key elements can be overlooked.

Orchestrating effective lessons requires planning the right formats for delivery at each stage – be it independent, pair, group or whole-class work. It requires the right level of pace, appropriate challenge for different ability levels in the group, and providing the best type of resources. First-class questioning skills are needed to direct learners to the next point on their journey. Effective teachers judge when and how to intervene to allow learners to progress. They don’t step in too soon; they don’t stifle pupils’ own problem-solving and forward-thinking.

And they need to know how to put this all together as a coherent and comprehensive whole that allows deep learning to take place. This means not forcing learning content into single neat little packages. Sometimes learning objectives need to be broken down and achieved over a series of learning sessions.

Then there are the times when the timetable needs to be suspended to provide a more immersive learning event. To be successful, these events must be planned to fulfil specific curriculum priorities. Objectives and outcomes need to be defined, activities and assessments carefully thought through and well designed.

It is tempting to let the surface appeal of an activity drive a lesson, but no matter how dynamic the idea for a task, learning objectives should come first. If the activity does not fit your curriculum big picture, don’t waste time on it. Learning objectives state intentions informed by relevant knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and social development. These signpost the learning journey and need to be communicated clearly. Time spent on setting the right objectives can make the difference between a lesson flop and learning showstopper.

Learning outcomes need to build on prior learning and make it possible for learners at different ability levels to make successful progress. Effective planning accommodates unpredicted turns and tangents. You want your teaching staff to be skilled and secure enough to manage unforeseen circumstances and events, and allow learning to proceed along unexpected tracks when opportunities arise and when pupils have moments of inspiration.

As curriculum manager you need to ensure there is consistency in the quality of T&L offered in each classroom. Your aim is for pupils to expect to be stimulated, engaged and challenged in all their lessons. Initiating discussion about what makes for effective learning is a good starting point. The checklist attached can be given to staff as a means of focusing on ingredients for dynamic learning. You can use this as a framework for discussion in staff development about what elements to plan for. Colleagues can add any missing elements, share innovative approaches to planning, and identify areas where they’d like more support or input.

As curriculum manager it is your job to help all your teaching staff develop the planning toolkit they need to create the conditions for powerful learning to become an expected daily occurrence in all classrooms.

For more on how to plan effective learning events, see the latest issue of Curriculum Briefing: Planning outstanding learning events – teaching success. For more details, or to order your copy, contact Optimus Education on 0845 4506410.

Lesson planning feature Notes 
Have you taken account of what students already know? How can they build on this?  

Are you clear about what your learning objectives cover: • knowledge?• understanding?• skills?

• personal and social development?

Have you planned objectives to cover a mix of these?

Have you planned how objectives will be communicated in an engaging and inspiring way?  
Have you identified connections with: • other subjects?• PLTS?• PSHE?• cross-curricular dimensions?• SEAL/emotional wellbeing?• other factors?

Do your intended learning outcomes reflect such connections?

Have you differentiated learning outcomes to match individual pupils’ capabilities?  
Have you planned for inclusion so all have equal opportunity to access and participate in the learning?  
Have you plotted a lesson route for learners to follow to achieve the intended outcomes by the end of the session?  
Have you planned activities that involve a mix of formats: independent, pair, group, and whole-class work?  
Do your resources provide the best type of support?  
Have you built in enough flexibility and foreseen potential trigger points for pupils to decide how to take their learning forward?  
Have you planned in opportunities for pupils to take risks?  
Have you prepared a mix of questions, including some that probe pupils’ understanding of key concepts, assumptions, reasoning and evidence for thinking as they do? Have you planned questions which ask pupils to reflect on their learning?  
Are you clear about when in the session pupils will present their learning?  
Will you involve peer-/self-/teacher assessment?  
Have you planned for pit-stop moments when you bring groups together to take stock before embarking on the next stage of learning?  
Have you planned a dynamic and inspiring ending to your learning event – one that allows learners to consolidate, reflect on and store what they’ve learned?  
Have you identified how you will follow up on the learning that has taken place and make connections with other learning?  
Other questions:  

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

About the author: Angela Dewsbury is editor of Curriculum Briefing and Curriculum Management Update, both published by Optimus Education