Planning a ‘perfect’ lesson

How long does a decent lesson take to plan? Ofsted have recently made clear that they’re not interested in over complicated lesson plans noting that “excessive detail within plans causes teachers to lose sight of the central focus on pupils’ learning.” So, who are we putting all that effort into planning for? Our students? Our selves?

John Tomsett writes

Over the past twenty years we have made tremendous progress in teaching and practice in our state schools has never been better; however, over-planned lessons are a curse. One candidate for a post at Huntington had a lesson plan a full nine pages long. He could not teach because he was too obsessed with what his plan said he should be doing every two minutes. And more experienced teachers are losing confidence because they think there is some secret formula for teaching great lessons for which they have not been trained.

Sound familiar? I’m with Phil Beadle when he urges us in How To Teach (and I’m paraphrasing cos I can’t find the page reference) put your time into marking instead of planning. He says (and this is a quote) “you can turn up hungover every morning, wearing the same creased pair of Farahs as last week, with hair that looks like a bird has slept in it, then spend most of the lesson talking at kids about how wonderful your are; but mark their books with dedication and rigour and your class will fly.”

Obviously, Phil being Phil this is a polemical position with which you will want to take issue. Please note that I am not endorsing Farahs, bad hair or talking at kids. However, the fact remains that pouring your heart and soul into lesson creation is not, perhaps, the best use of your time. Really.

I’m a big fan of random lesson generators such as The Lesson Generator and the Learning Event Generator. There’s even an iPhone app. These are all potentially a little bit silly, but I like the challenge of  making “democracy” as a “dot to dot activity” work. It often goes awry but as long as you take the students with you and get them to unpick the failures they will always be able to fail better another time.

John also mentions checklists in his post and has included this extract from Michael Fullan. For those disinclined to click links I’ll summarise: Fullan says that checklists must be “simple, measurable and transmissable”. They should also be “precise, efficient, to the point and easy to use in even the most difficult circumstances.” Above all they should be “quick and simple tools aimed to buttress the skills of expert professionals.” That’s us lot.

Now, as you may know, I’ve just written a book called The Perfect (Ofsted) English Lesson (Very reasonably priced at only 2.39 on Amazon.) In it I address the checklist Ofsted inspectors have been trained to use when inspecting your lesson. Please understand that this is not my checklist, neither am I endorsing it.

Planning

  • Does the lesson plan relate to the sequence of teaching?
  • Does the planning demonstrate high expectations and challenge?
  • Is the plan appropriate for the learning needs of all groups of pupils?
  • Is there a ‘safe’ learning environment?

Start of the Lesson:

  • Does the lesson get off to a flying start? is there a recap of previous learning?
  • Are the learning objectives are clear and appropriate in number?
  • Are the learning objectives are shared? Are the success criteria are clear?
  • Is the learning real?

During the Lesson:

  • Is the teaching well placed?
  • Does the teaching hold learners’ interests?
  • Does the teaching meet a range of learning styles?
  • Does the teaching meet a range of abilities?
  • Does the teaching actively engage learners in the learning process?
  • Are learners given clear information and guidance throughout the lesson?
  • Is there paired or collaborative work?
  • Is questioning used effectively?
  • Are all learners actively involved?
  • Is clear feedback given on progress?
  • Is pupil knowledge and understanding increased? is there an opportunity for pupils to demonstrate increased knowledge and learning?
  • Are reading and writing skills are developed?

End of the Lesson:

  • Are the learning objectives reviewed?
  • Are questions used to check what learning has taken place?
  • Is there feedback from teacher to pupils? is there pupil-to-pupil feedback?
  • Is there evidence of self-assessment?
  • Is the next lesson previewed?
  • Is the lesson brought to a clear close?

Does this checklist meet Fullan’s criteria? Obviously all this is discussed at tedious length in the book – but that’s the bare bones of what Ofsted are looking for. Whether or not you think it’s important to tick it all off is quite another matter. I certainly don’t.

I’d be interested to hear what you all think.

Fast forward a few months >>> THIS is my latest thinking!

13 Responses to Planning a ‘perfect’ lesson

  1. Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) says:

    Having a ‘perfect’ lesson as a stand alone event is impossible. It has to be part of what goes on, week in, week out – if you try and tick all of those boxes from one particular lesson then it’s never going to happen. This is why PB’s premise of focusing on marking is key because the assessment can then focus the content of the lesson; because it allows students to demonstrate their progress and learning over time; a time much longer than those 50mins-1hr can provide. Evidence of that progress can be gleaned from conversations and observation in a short space of time. That’s how you end up with a ‘perfect’ lesson; by putting that input, graft and time in to the relationships and progress over an extended period.

  2. ryan says:

    Perfect is subjective!
    My perfect sunday roast would certainly be different to that of a vegetarian! Mr Beadle has it spot on and I lend his book to every PGCE and NQT who comes my way because its honesty is what is often lacking in the world of performativity.

  3. […] into more posts these days. This weekend a ‘lesson planning’ theme caught my attention (here and here) after my mid week, thoughtfully planned (barely) ‘satisfactory’ lesson left me […]

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  5. Charlotte says:

    Is there such thing as the perfect lesson? As you plan the lesson, the lesson may not go as planned. Also, does the check-list and planning depend on your class and how your class learn?

    • learningspy says:

      Quite right: see my replies to previous comments. Whilst the idea that you can achieve perfection is a nonsense it’s certainly true that it won’t happen if you don’t plan for it.

  6. Croix2000 says:

    Agree on the move away from the perfect lesson and having a tick list. Although I do think some teachers may benefit from such support/list. Not sure I agree with PB comment about marking over planning. Planning is essential to meet needs of all students and personalise learning – important along with all types of formative feedback.

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  9. learningspy says:

    Hi Ceddy – I guess my reply to that is that any planning you do will be a best guesswork unless you’ve marked the students’ work. And also, beware the fact that AfL tends only to indicate students’ ‘performance’, and rarely their actual learning.

  10. […] Planning the ‘perfect’ lesson Work scrutiny: what’s the point in marking books? Are worksheets a waste of time? […]

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