If learning happens over a period of weeks, months and years.
Is lesson planing always carried out with student learning in mind?
Recently I have led a series of talks/sessions/workshops on the challenges of leading teaching & learning across a school. What has struck me as somewhat odd is the number of people that hear the phrase ‘teaching & learning’ but only really register the ‘teaching’ part. Teaching without any understanding of how people learn or what learning is, conjures up thoughts of the blind leading the blind. What does your school focus on? Is their balance between teaching and learning with links between the two?After reading books like ‘Why students don’t like school’ and ‘the hidden lives of learners’ I can’t help but think about learning whenever I’m planning a lesson or reflecting upon my teaching. This has led me to reflect further on lesson planning and a few questions that teachers could consider, to focus the planning of a lesson to maximise learning:
1. What is the desired learning outcome?
2. What do I want students to think about at different points during the lesson?
3. Will the activity make them think hard about the desired content or distract them from it?
4. How will I link new knowledge to students existing knowledge base?
5. How will I model the learning outcome?
What I think about when I plan a lesson.
I always go back to a definition of learning by Professor Coe that has stuck with me. and stays at the forefront of my mind…
So I think about the one thing I want my students to learn and then design a sequence that will enable them to think hard about the knowledge and apply / practice the desired skills. If an activity does not contribute to the learning then it doesn’t form part of the lesson.
The spectrum below (created by Shaun Allison) expertly depicts what teachers should be aiming for – the struggle zone. Learning should be difficult enough that students grapple with the content but not so difficult that it flies straight over their heads or so easy that it doesn’t require any real thought at all.What is the quickest path to the learning?
On a recent trip to Malaysia (so recent I’m currently sat in my wife’s parents house in Malaysia writing this post) me and my wife decided to fly direct from London to Kuala Lumpur, with a 3 month old in tow it seemed like a sensible idea. Our objective was to get to Malaysia as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle and distraction. Now we could have flown from London to Amsterdam, wait a few hours flown to Dubai, wait several hours before flying onto Kuala Lumpur which would have used up almost a whole day on travelling. This option might have saved us a little money but would have almost certainly used up lots of time and energy. This scenario made me think about lessons and the quickest possible route to learning.
I’ve observed a number of lessons where the objective has been really clear on the learning that the teacher wants the students to engage with, but the students have been held back by a flurry of activities with questionable links to the desired learning. This leads me to think that as teachers, if there is a direct route to the learning we should take it. When planning a lesson, if the objective is for students to learn X why should they embark upon an array of activities that eventually lead them to X or miss the destination altogether? We sometimes get bogged down in planning lessons to fill time using multiple activities (that sometimes take us off course) to buffer the learning rather than getting straight to the learning.
Consider the two diagrams below – which one best represents your lessons?
When planning a lesson it’s important to keep in mind the learning and design activities that will enable students to think hard about the desired learning by spending time in the struggle zone and allow time for students to practice the application of desired knowledge / skills.
Habits of highly effective lesson planning.This blog post by Pepe Mccrea outlines habits of highly effective planning. Below are the 7 habits with a few key extracts from Pepe’s blog.
1. Start with the end in mind.
Excessive clarity – The clearer you are about where you want them to get, the better you’ll be able to help them get there.
2. Take the shortest path.
Don’t waste time designing overly complex learning experiences. What is the least I need to say to explain this concept to my students? What is the least amount of information I need to give them before they can get started?
3. Assess reliably and efficiently.
Hinge questioning Asking the whole class to: answer a multi-choice question using hand-signals; or show their thinking using mini-whiteboards.
Exit ticketing Giving students 3 questions to answer on a sheet of paper which they have to hand to you as they walk out the door.
4. Build learning that lasts.
Plan for thinking As Daniel Willingham so eloquently puts it, ‘learning is the residue of thought’. Plan what you want your students to think.
Anchor thinking David Ausubel tells us that ‘what students already know is the most important factor in what they can learn’. Design activities to help your students tap into what they know and make connections with what they’re going to learn about.
5. Anticipate the unexpected.
Increase your impact further by looking for points in your lesson where students are likely to struggle, make mistakes or develop misconceptions.
6. Move towards inter-lesson planning.
The relationship between lessons is just as important as what happens within them.
7. Plan better together.
Sharing your planning and practice not only brings fresh eyes to old problems and helps us articulate what we’re doing and why, but it also spreads our understanding of what works (and what doesn’t) amongst our profession.
We often have lots of great ideas for lesson activities but must consider the execution of them and the effect they will have on the desired learning. When planning a lesson consider:
– working backwards from where you want students to end up.
– what you want students to think about at different points in the lesson and how your planned activities will foster that thinking.
– the quickest path to the learning – don’t waste time with lots of activities that just keep students busy – focus on tasks that enable students to grapple with knowledge / skills in the ‘struggle zone.’
Always in the pursuit of doing better for the students I teach, two posts have made me reflect deeply on my practice this week.
In the post Joe describes how he specifies the subject knowledge required for a given topic in meticulous detail. This is useful for a few reasons:
– it clarifies for the teacher exactly what the students need to know and enables more precise planning.
– it serves as a good benchmark for students at the beginning of a topic. Seeing the required knowledge laid out in front of you on a side of A4 is extremely powerful and will enable students to highlight what they are already know.
– when it comes to revision, students have real clarity about the knowledge they need to know.
During my relatively short time as a teacher, when starting a new topic I may have shared a vague outline of what the topic will involve but never to the detail suggested in Joe’s post. I feel like a trick has been missed here, which is why I plan to experiment with knowledge organisers from this point forward.
Andy’s post puts into practice Joe’s knowledge organiser for a GCSE English class. Andy also describes in depth his approach to a series of lessons leading up to an exam. Lessons follow a similar routine (although the stages of each lesson might involve different delivery styles / mediums):
1) Begin with a ‘memory platform‘ where they will be tested on key knowledge/quotes from the knowledge organisers using a wide range of quizzing methods. Students need to be fluent in this knowledge and to do this they will need to cover it repeatedly. They will be encouraged to elaborate on these points of knowledge, exploring their wider significance.
2) Revise and extend a key area. OMAM and AIC – the green lessons – will be taught side-by-side, whereas the poems will be revised in pairs.
3) Lessons will end with 15 minutes of deliberate writing practice where students will be expected to hone the finer parts of their analytical style by writing a paragraph at A/A* standard – this is a top set – based on the content of the lesson (modelling and scaffolding will feature here too).
When planning revision sessions (and in a broader sense planning a curriculum structure) it’s worth thinking about the following:
If learning happens when we think really hard about something and we remember what we think about, then engaging students in activities, practices and routines that encourage this is probably a sensible course to take.
GCSE Computing revision.
As a result of reading the aforementioned posts and adopting the collective thinking of Professor Coe and Daniel Willingham, I have developed a revision structure for a GCSE Computing class I teach. It follows this cycle:
1. Start with a memory platform, usually a multiple choice quiz (these are deliberately rigourous with any one of the three answers a potential correct answer, forcing students to study the different answers and think hard about theirs).
2. Knowledge organisers. I have only just started using these as prompted by Joe and Any’s blog posts earlier this week. But I intend to use them at the beginning of teaching a topic as well as revision. It’s a collection of documents that will be referred to throughout the entire course. in revision sessions the knowledge organiser is an opportunity to see an overview of the knowledge and pick out the things they can remember and the things that they need to revisit first.
3. Key subject specific vocabulary. Students are then given time to recall key terms from memory for a particular topic. This is followed up by the TLAC technique ‘Check or change’ where students check their definitions against correct definitions and make changes if needed.
4. Flash cards. Students are then given time to create a set of flash cards based upon the key subject specific vocabulary. Flash cards have previously been identified as a more effective revision technique. I’m working on the premise that if students are comfortable with the subject specific vocabulary then they should be able to at the very least attempt every question for that topic (obviously they need to understand the context of each question, that comes next). Feedback from students has been really positive as the motivation to use the flash cards appears to be higher than to write out copious notes.
5. Past paper questions. Finally students attempt past paper questions, using the subject specific vocabulary in different contexts. I have also experimented with working through long answer questions with students using the following routine:
- students attempt a question in exam conditions
- teacher works through the answer with the class using students answers to prompt discussion and supportive critique
- students attempt the same question again in exam conditions
- teacher works through answer again with the help of students to model an answer
- a similar question (that requires the same knowledge but uses a different context) is then used as a starter in the next lesson.
It’s hard to evaluate how much of an impact the above strategy will have on exam performance but…
… from a teaching perspective, revision sessions certainly seem more focused with a greater clarity of what students need to know for each topic which lends itself to more precise deliberate practice.
… students have a much clearer picture of what they need to know and the work they are producing is of better quality and a greater depth. Students are more inquisitive and motivated to increase their knowledge.
… lessons have a greater sense of urgency to them.
RESOURCE: GCSE Computing knowledge organisers.