One of the best lessons I taught as a history teacher was conceived as I wrestled with the plan whilst walking down the corridor to the lesson. In that moment, I realised that my sense of unease meant I needed to re-orientate my historical enquiry question and, therefore, utilise the resources I’d created in a very different way. As I entered the classroom, I remember worrying about taking the risk of making such a big last-minute change. And yet the lesson flew. The changes meant the lesson had a much greater sense of coherence and purpose. The students could see the value in what they were doing, my questioning was sharper, and the debate which ensued was more historically rigorous.
When I think back to that lesson now, with the eyes of a teacher educator, I am struck by the factors that made this lesson possible:
- The ethos and motivation of this group of students;
- Experience in the classroom;
- Possession of secure and broad subject knowledge;
- A firm grounding in how to plan lessons and conceptualise historical enquiry.
To plan or not to plan?
Debate around the latter of these factors came to the fore on Edutwitter in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and as my beginning teachers settle into their main teaching practice placements this appears an opportune time to revisit the issue: Should beginning teachers be expected to plan all their lesson from scratch to learn the process or should they teach from pre-designed schemes of work and resources so they can concentrate on developing their other skills, for example how to manage classrooms and behaviour?
We know that workload is a significant factor in the recruitment and retention ‘crisis’ currently facing the profession. Consequently, the Department for Education (2018, p.6) published advice around addressing workload for all teachers but particularly considering the issue of workload in the experiences of training and early career teachers. In this report the DfE deal head-on with the need to ‘[reduce] the expectation on trainees to develop their own individual lesson plans and curriculum resources for every lesson they teach; instead trainees should focus on evaluating, using and adapting (where necessary) existing high quality resources, schemes of work and textbooks’. The report then goes on to suggest that ‘only once trainees have a good knowledge of existing resources and sequencing of lessons, should they then start to develop their own plans when these are required.’
The debate around training teachers planning their own lessons often ultimately comes down to a philosophical position: should the teacher be an autonomous practitioner shaping and designing the curriculum (in collaboration with colleagues) or is the teacher a deliverer of a pre-determined curriculum?
Why planning matters
There are many fundamental differences between the planning approaches of an experienced teacher and those of beginning teachers. Experienced teachers draw upon a deep well of familiarity with curriculum, subject knowledge, understanding of class dynamics and the practical experience of what works in a classroom. Beginning teachers do not enjoy this luxury and so engaging in a full process of planning, whilst time consuming, can provide the necessary scaffolding to support them into effective classroom practice. As Bourdillon and Storey (2002, p.89) assert: ‘For beginning teachers, however, the process of planning has to be thought through and externalized. Detailed or written planning, especially of lesson plans, becomes very important as they develop their classroom knowledge and classroom routines.’
Yet, detailed planning has a value that moves beyond these immediate concerns. It is vital for the future of the profession for beginning teachers to have an understanding of the ways in which historical learning is built and developed, through overarching curriculum design, individual enquiries and specific lessons. Ultimately we need these beginning teachers to be equipped to become leaders who can manage curriculum and policy change and who are able to drive curricular development for the students of the future. In the words of Counsell (2018), we aim to develop teachers who are capable of developing a curriculum for pupils that provides ‘systematic, steady familiarisation with layers and layers of rich, fascinating, enabling knowledge.’
So how do we approach the lesson planning/ workload conundrum?
I shall endeavour to unpack how we try to approach this issue by taking a ‘middle way’ in the second part of this blog.
References and Further Reading
Bourdillon, H. and Storey, A. eds. (2002), Aspects of Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools : Perspectives on Practice, Routledge, 2002.
Counsell, C. (2018), Blog: Senior Curriculum Leadership 1: The indirect manifestation of knowledge: (B) final performance as deceiver and guide, https://thedignityofthethingblog.wordpress.com/author/christinecounsell/
DfE (2018) Addressing teacher workload in Initial Teacher Education (ITE), DfE: London.