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The importance of planning in teaching

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This is the first of three blog posts on the importance of lesson planning written by William Power, an Adhyayan Associate. Will is currently an Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for Teaching and Learning at Coppermill Primary School, East London. He is an Associate at Adhyayan and worked with Spokey Wheeler and Kavita Anand developing a low-cost high quality schools model in Jharkhand. He has also worked for the European Commission in Delhi and studied Sanskrit as an undergraduate. His areas of interest include: oral storytelling, outdoor learning, primary science, talk for writing and phonics. 

Teaching is often broken down into three key components: planning, delivery and assessment. The interaction of these elements and the ability of the teacher to connect them coherently frequently defines the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of what occurs in the classroom. Lessons are rarely successful when they pay little heed to assessment data or are planned badly.

This post will focus on the first of these elements, planning. Many teachers see this component as unnecessary or tiresome: “We have a textbook that tells us what to teach”; “It’s just pointless paperwork, a waste of time.” Teachers are dynamic, energetic people; they just want to get on with the act of teaching.

If you have ever entertained such thoughts then this post is for you: planning is arguably the single most important aspect of the teaching process – it defines the way forward, whether over the span of a year, a term or a single lesson. Planning enables the teacher to situate their learners within a broader framework so their learning is connected and built upon. Teachers that plan poorly may teach engaging or even interesting individual lessons but over time their learners will not progress.

Conversely, effective teaching systematically identifies individual learning needs and plans well-thought out opportunities for the teacher to address them.

How to plan for progression

When you get on a train it’s useful to know where it’s going. Who wants to end up in Raipur when you wanted to go to Ranchi? As with trains, so with learning:

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When planning, always start with the end point and work backwards. This technique is just as relevant when thinking about an individual lesson as it is for a subject area or curriculum. Strategically, a school might ask “what qualities and skills will our young people have when they leave us?”

In the business world ‘backwards planning’ is common, where key decisions are made with reference to well-defined objectives. Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is known for saying: “start with the customer and work backwards.”

This kind of systematic approach works well when thinking about planning. If teachers are clear about what they want to achieve, they are more likely to end up getting there. And if they think carefully about the learner as their starting point, chances are they will bring the learner with them too. A lot of research suggests this ‘learning partnership’ has a dramatic effect on student outcomes (see Black and Wiliam, 2002).

Where to start

Planning can be split into three broad categories:

  1. Long term (the curriculum/ yearly plan)
  2. Medium term (unit plans)
  3. Short term (individual lesson plans)

It is important that teachers engage with the planning process on all of these levels. They must understand how their day to day practice fits into a broader, connected sequence (over, say a 3-week unit) and the year as a whole (across the wider curriculum).

Stay tuned for Will’s next post where he looks at the three kinds of planning in detail.