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Planning DOs and DON'Ts

Planning dos and don'ts

When you’re observing experienced teachers teaching, it might look like it’s all coming quite spontaneously to them, with no apparent planning and very little written down. Don’t be misled by this and assume you can get by without planning. Experienced teachers too have spent the time needed by initially planning in detail. It is tempting to want to take shortcuts because it can seem time consuming and an unnecessary workload during your training course. But remember it’s worth the effort and time and will make you a better teacher! Here are some planning DOs and DON’Ts to keep you on track. 

DO familiarise yourself with Curriculum changes

The first national curriculum was introduced in 1989 and comprised of nine subjects. Since then there have been a number of revisions, the most recent being the framework document for the national curriculum in England implemented from September 2014.  It is likely that you will be training and working in some schools where minor changes have been made to reflect the revised curriculum and in others where the curriculum has been completely rewritten. It is important, therefore, that you understand the changes made in the revised framework so that you can ensure your planning reflects these and complies with the statutory requirements. The changes made in the revised national curriculum (DfE, 2014) can be summa­rised as follows:

  • The national curriculum is only statutory for maintained schools in England and these schools must publish their curriculum by subject and year group online each year. Academies can choose whether to follow the national curriculum.

  • The national curriculum is to be considered one part of the curriculum offered by a school and no further guidance will be given by the government on how to plan or teach the curriculum offered. 

  • English, mathematics and science remain as core subjects but with an expectation that numeracy and literacy will be taught through all subject areas. There is an emphasis on phonics in the early teaching of reading.

  • Art and design, design and technology, geography, history, music and physical education remain as foundation subjects. Information and communications technology has been replaced by computing with an expectation that ICT should permeate all subjects. Languages are now included in the national curriculum for key stages 2 and 3. 

  • There remains an expectation that personal, social and health education (PSHE) and religious education (RE) will be part of any school provision although the content of this remains, largely, within the control of each school. Sex and relationship education is not statutory in the primary phase. Citizenship and sex and relationship education are statutory from key stage 3. 

  • In assessment, levels have been removed and schools are free to choose their own system of reporting. Children will be expected to understand and apply the concepts, skills and processes outlined in the programmes of study appropriate for their year group or key stage. Schools will still be required to report progress to parents at the end of each key stage, and end of key stage tests will remain. 

*This is an extract from Sewell, Planning the Primary National Curriculum

DON'T forget who you are planning for

Lesson plans can be present in many different formats, but the key point to remember is that ultimately the lesson plan is not for anyone other than you, as trainee. It is a reminder for you of your thought processes during the planning stage, so that when you are in front of the class, you will have the confidence to say that the learners are making progress. It is very rare (and best avoided) that teachers read from their lesson plan as they are teaching. However, having an aide-mémoire can be helpful to remind you of organisational details during the lesson. For this reason, ‘wordy’ plans tend to be less effective – the information that needs to be found quickly is hidden within less relevant text; try succinct bullet points instead.

However, at all stages of your career, it is important to remember that while the lesson plan is mainly for you, others may also need to be able to decipher it. Along with your mentor, and perhaps the senior leadership team, teaching assistants who work in the class will need to be able to understand your plans for the lesson to ensure pupil progress. A balance, therefore, is needed between what you need to support your teaching of the lesson, and what others may need to be able to understand from the plan.

*This is an extract from Paige et al, Building Skills for Effective Primary Teaching


DO plan your questions ahead

The effective introduction of questioning strategies and patterns into your teaching and learning process requires careful articulation and advanced preparation. While some teacher-learners might be skilled in questioning without preparation and forethought, many find that such on-the-fly questioning inevitably creates phrasing problems. This happens if the questioning patterns are not organized in a logical scope and sequence as intended, or do not encourage or guide students sufficiently to apply the desired thinking processes. Well-conceived questioning strategies and patterns will result in well-conceived learning outcomes. Develop and use questions that will enable your students to use attitudinal responses and skills processes as well as the cognitive understandings that you have identified as part of the learning sequence. 

*This is an extract from Lange and Burroughs, Learning to be a Teacher


DON'T make planning a burden

It is important that planning should not become burdensome and those in the school community should remember that most national accountability frameworks, including that operated by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), do not require schools to provide individual lesson plans and do not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain, since inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.

*This is an extract from Wyse and Rogers, A Guide to Early Years and Primary Teaching


DO be a chameleon  - adapt to pupil needs

A thoroughly planned lesson will account for the needs of all learners and it is essential that you are ready for those ‘off-script’ moments for which you hadn’t planned. A well-designed lesson will ensure that you have provided bespoke activities for groups of learners and pre-empted pupil questions (and prepared answers). An effective lesson takes account of these potential adaptations and is flexible enough to accommodate them.

Whilst lessons should work within a pre-considered structure, it is essential to consider that this structure must be fluid enough to adapt, should the needs of the learners require it. In addition, learner needs should be planned for throughout, from the start of the lesson to the plenary and all of the parts in between.

*This is an extract from Carroll and Alexander, The Teachers’ Standards in Primary Schools


DON'T make assumptions about your subject knowledge 

In order to plan and teach effectively you will need to look at the progression within a specific topic and the links between the topic to be planned and other areas within the subject being taught or between curriculum areas. Once you know what you will be teaching and you have asked your class teacher and/or mentor about pupils’ previous experiences, attainments and misconceptions, you are ready to explore your own subject knowledge.

Your course will include sessions on subject and pedagogic knowledge. Look at your notes for the specific topic you are planning, to explore the details of the progression. Use these to understand where the lessons you will be planning and teaching fit into this progression. Try to identify any aspects that you may want to revisit in relation to your own understanding. Explain the key aspects to a colleague to try out your approaches and check your understanding. Be honest with yourself at this point as it is possible to make assumptions about your knowledge.

 *This is an extract from Hansen, Primary Professional Studies