Four Rules of Planning

After a comfortable month of observing lessons and helping students complete tasks, now it’s time in my training to start planning activities and, dare I say it, lessons. I joked with other trainees that Leonard Snart’s rules of planning are the way to go. However, from what I have already observed, learnt about, and now from experience, it actually is.

For those of you who don’t know, Leonard Snart (aka Captain Cold) is a character in the TV show, The Flash. Snart is a master thief turned anti-hero (joining the Legends of Tomorrow), infamous for his heists. The heroes are always astounded by how Snart formulates his fool proof plans. When the Flash turns to Snart for help one particular episode, he is even more confused when Snart reveals his four rules to planning and I’ve become astounded how it works for lesson planning (in a way).

Snart’s four rules to planning are;

1) Make the plan

2) Execute the plan

3) Expect the plan to go off the rails

4) And… Throw away the plan

Rules one and two should really go without saying. Making the plan is critical. Every lesson needs to be planned or you won’t know what you are going to be teaching! It also means the content is delivered in a structured way so students can grasp the full concept without being overwhelmed. Obviously following that, you need to then turn up and do the lesson plan or the students will be in the corridor all lesson not learning a thing. As I said, goes without saying.

Where it becomes more interesting is rule three. I found myself, and teachers I’ve observed, looking at their activities identifying what could go wrong. A prime example is a starter I planned for top set Year 7 showing inequalities on a number line. What could go wrong? Potential problem 1, students may not be sure what the inequalities represent. Does x > 1 mean x is bigger or smaller to 1? Does it include 1? I knew they covered this in the last lesson, so this should be fine, however, some students still had a weak grasp. To ensure it would be easily understood, I selected straight forward problems to move the focus on representing on a number line. Potential problem 2, what if they are unsure of the notation? If they haven’t learnt to do it in this way before, they would be unsure how to draw it on a number line. They need to put an arrow, an empty dot, or filled in dot, on the end of the line. Easy, I’ll quickly explain the notation before they start and I would be able to leave them to it…

Throw away the plan! Why plan if you are just going to throw away the plan? I would adapt this to, ‘know when to throw away the plan’. This is what I had to do with this starter as where I thought top set Year 7 would grasp this quickly after an explanation… I was only met with 30 blank faces. Plan was out the window! Instead of leaving them to the task, I took a massive step back to do a much deeper explanation, with a worked example, leaving students to only do one on their own. Not a great starter I know but if I wasn’t prepared to throw away the plan it could have been a lot worse! Of course, the key difference between planning a heist and a lesson, this can go both ways. In one lesson I observed, the teacher planned a few graphs questions for the class but as the students were flying through the content they decided to skip them and move on to the next concept. Again, plan out of the window!

Really, I see the fourth rule as being flexible. Before I started my training, and particularly the GPS on lesson planning, I thought lessons had to be fully planned (the mind-set of Snart’s doubleganger from Earth X, yeah, it’s that kind of show), but having that flexibility allows you to take the step back or forward to focus on what counts. The learning.

Alex, Maths Trainee Teacher, King Edmund School