A recent study identified six common lesson planning pitfalls of novice educators (Jones, K. et al, 2011). The pitfalls are detailed as the following: unclear learning objectives, no assessment or assessments that are completed outside of class, no evidence of the development of student ideas, assessments that do not match learning objectives, starting activities that are a waste of time or do not prepare students for learning, and students being passive recipients of knowledge (Jones K. et al, 2011). The study, which examined more than 500 teaching episodes of teachers in training or in their first two years of teaching, was conducted in the United States, but the pitfalls researchers described were all too familiar — I have stumbled upon each one during the first term of my teacher training.
Each pitfall could be mitigated or avoided through thoughtful lesson planning; I have found that it is easy to mistake extensive planning for thoughtful, meaningful planning. Elaborate games and activities designed for learning episodes within a lesson may be enjoyable, but not actually lead to independent learning or firmly embedded knowledge (Didau, D., 2012). Furthermore, such planning can be time consuming and may prevent teachers from engaging in more useful activities, such as marking and giving targeted, specific feedback. Similarly, learning objectives may be lovingly crafted using Bloom’s Taxonomy, but not be usefully connected to a tangible skill or to previous knowledge or lessons. Meaningful planning is grounded in cognitive research, knowledge of students and their individual learning needs, and a long-term view that acknowledges that much of learning is invisible, requiring time and repeated practice, as Nuthall has written, “learning takes time and is not encapsulated in the visible here-and-now of classroom activities” (Nuthall, G., 2007).
After receiving some feedback from a lesson observation that I was engaging in ‘too much chalk and talk’ and lessons with too many activities and too little assessment, I stepped back to think more deeply about how I could structure and plan lessons more effectively. Firstly, I returned to my learning objectives. Teacher and blogger Zoe Elder suggests adding the connective ‘so that’ to learning objectives to provide ‘a concrete way to communicate the relevance of learning … making the reason for the lesson in the LO overt and explicit from the outset’ (2012). This seemingly simple tweak has helped me think in a more specific way about the skills that I am attempting to teach and has naturally lead to a more tangible connection between objectives and assessments.
Secondly, I have been spending more time marking and giving feedback, using my marking to plan more successfully. David Didau argues that marking is planning (2012) and it has been key in planning lessons that are modeled, scaffolded and differentiated more effectively, as well as more explicitly linked to previous lessons. Again, this seems obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to lose sight of the importance of marking under the daily pressures of preparing content for lessons. Broadly speaking, I am aiming to move away from abstraction towards precision and relevance.