It may appear simple to say that there has to be a beginning, middle and end but is important that we do not miss any of these stages and they must be in balance.
I have known lessons where the beginning went on too long, or where there is not enough time for the students to engage or immerse themselves in the learning or there was not enough time at the end of the lesson to conclude it in a meaningful way. Get it right and lessons are meaningful, full of learning and there is a great teacher/learner relationship. Get it wrong and lessons are often characterised by boredom or conflict and challenge.
The risk of poor lesson planning
I have experienced lesson planning pro-forma that seek to address these issues but become so prescriptive that they do not allow for the natural dynamics of a lesson and risk creating the same outcome they are trying to avoid.
There is a simple but effective way to ensure lesson planning creates the type of lesson we would ideally like in our teaching and that is to plan a lesson as a learner and not as a teacher.
Think about how, as a learner, you would like the lesson structured and the pace or balance of the lesson. As a learner, you would like time to become familiar with the learning challenge, time to explore or practice and to establish your understanding and then to have an opportunity to consolidate the learning or perhaps ask questions to further your understanding. These stages should characterise the beginning, middle and end of a lesson. The ‘mindful’ teacher addresses these needs in their planning and delivery.
Power Belonging Choice and Fun in lesson planning
Planning lessons around subject material is only one aspect of the planning, we need to consider the learner needs too. I define these needs as power, belonging, choice and fun and suggest we ignore them at our peril. Within a calm learning environment, a teacher needs to lead, to guide their students not to push them or over-regulate their behaviour and we can do this if we meet their learning needs. In doing so we can create effective learning relationships and improve learning outcomes.
The beginning, middle and end
Meeting learning needs (power, belonging, choice and fun) is important at the start, during and at the end of all lessons. Addressing them in our planning will help us create the engagement we are looking for as well as creating effective relationships. A relationship that allows for that dynamic of being able to respond to the unexpected teaching and learning challenges in a meaningful way without disrupting the lesson flow. We may on such occasions leave the subject content planning path but by doing so we will better support our learners because we are meeting their needs.
The start of a lesson should include how we are going to meet the need for belonging. Perhaps the greeting and arrival are ideal opportunities to do so. Offering guided choice and listening to the ‘student voice’ can be included too during the lesson. Linking fun to achievement is our greatest challenge and we must include opportunities to celebrate learning at the end.
“Please be child friendly”
My way of remembering learning needs is simple and apt. “Please Be Child Friendly” when planning and teaching. The graphic is also something you can print off and keep at hand.
A different way of looking at teaching and learning
PBCF is part of an approach to teaching I refer to as “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short, and looks at how the learner and teacher can manage the learning environment to promote better learning and improve learning relationships. If you are interested in LQ or just PBCF then get in touch I am more than happy to talk you through how, with only small changes, the approach can make a significant impact on teaching and learning.
Do you try to learn what you are teaching the way you are presenting it to your students?
To put it another way.
When you begin to plan lessons do you see it through the eyes of your students or do you rely on the way you learnt it to plan your teaching?
This is an important question not only for those starting their teaching career but for those who have been at it some time. I believe learning is a personal thing. What motivates, engages, enthuses, or frustrates one learner is not always the same as another. We can feign enthusiasm, hide our lack of engagement, or explain a lack of motivation but hiding frustration is difficult. This is why the first step in teaching has to be building relationships with learners. Frustrated learners with whom you have a relationship tend in my experience to be a little more ‘forgiving’ than those with which you do not. I am not talking about the ‘compliant learner’ who will feign engagement but those who can be more disruptive when not engaged.
To build relationships we need to understand something about the other person, as a teacher we need to understand our students. One aspect of building this relationship is to see the learning experience through their eyes as if we too are encountering it for the first time. Do you do that when planning lessons?
Take a moment to consider the conditions under which you learnt what you are now planning to teach.
- How long ago was it?
- How were you feeling at the time?
- How successful had your prior learning been?
- What relationship did you have with the teacher?
- What relationship did you have with your peers?
- What resources were available to you to help you learn?
Now think about how you plan to teach the particular topic. Will you make any changes as a result of this reflection?
Perhaps you will take a moment to judge how confident your students feel at this moment. Perhaps you will consider your own feelings when you approach something new or challenging. Lesson planning is more than just about content.
You can see much more about lesson planning at:
If you are finding it hard to remember what it feels like to be a learner, to learn something new, to face new challenges for the first time then may I recommend John’s rule # 12 which says:
“Always have a project on the go.”
This is translated as ‘always be a learner’. More of John’s rules at:
The start of a new term or semester often means the start of a new module, new project, or chapter in learning for the student. It has also meant a lot of lesson planning for the teacher has already taken place and it is time to test out the material. There is a lot riding on how well this has been done, the resources collected together and how it will be introduced. Get it right and you have engaged, interested, and enthusiastic learners. Get it wrong and the consequences range from disinterest to conflict and behaviour issues.
How can LQ play a part in lesson planning?
This question came about because of my current research and thinking for the LQ book I am presently working on. Although I said I would not be posting anything new on LQ I wanted to “air” my ideas on this particular aspect of Teaching and Learning and see if there was any “feedforward“.
We know that the successful teacher models learning behaviours. They often have a “project” in which they are involved, they are engaged in learning and remember what it feels like to learn something for the first time. These feelings often find their way into the planning cycle because the teacher will reflect on the experiences that will be faced by the students.
The teacher/learner is not merely presenting stuff to learn they understand they must guide the student through the learning experience too and their planning will reflect this. If you have read the earlier articles on LQ you will understand why I believe LQ thinking to be important when lesson planning.
Here is an LQ take on the lesson planning process.
(Heading in blue suggest LQ and those in red traditional planning considerations)
What do I need to teach is often the starting point.
What is the unit about, what will it cover and what do I want the students to learn? We can see aims and objectives being written in response to this question. No departure from normal lesson planning.
Where are my students?
What do they know and what “anchors” can I use to help “fix” the new learning? In other words prior learning, what do they know and how do I know what they know? A teacher should always start at this point, however, some assume rather than find out and this can mean bored learners or learners who are unable to access the learning. We are planning on poor foundations. No departure from good practice so far.
How do my students feel about what they have learnt already?
How confident are they in taking on a new challenge or applying what they know already? Will they be able to find the courage to try, to face possible struggles and in some cases failure at the first, second or even third attempt? Here we are beginning to open the LQ box of questions. To include this aspect in lesson planning is not too difficult and there are strategies that can be employed to help learners overcome confidence issues, to become learning heroes and understand the challenges faced in the quest to conquer the unknown or new.
How do I begin by sharing the learning challenges ahead?
In planning terms we may refer to this as the “Introduction” but only if we focus on the content and not the process. Sharing the challenges and involving the learner in planning to meet them is part of the LQ approach in planning and it is sometimes referred to as learner centred teaching. New topics can be approached in a number of ways and asking the learners to identify the most appropriate (even if this involves an element of guiding) helps share the ownership and responsibility for learning. It also develops LQ since lessons can be learnt from the how of learning as well as the knowledge or understanding itself. Sharing this aspect of planning is a little like offering a choice at meal time, it is difficult to push the plate away and say, “I don’t like this” when you have chosen it!
Here are some more LQ planning questions and requirements for you to consider:
- How do I share my enthusiasm for this topic?
- How do I elicit and include the ideas of the learners in my planning, preparation and resourcing?
- How do I describe achievement and how will the students recognise it?
- How do we work together to achieve and in doing so share the challenges?
- What will my role be in the learning process be and how do I signal this to the students?
- How will we celebrate achievement together and as individuals?
- How does the student go about reviewing their achievement against their learning map (what they believe they can and cannot learn) in order to re draw it to include new information about themselves (LQ)?
- What resources will be required to support them emotionally through the learning challenges?
LQ involves considering emotions and feeling about learning and coming to terms with them as a natural part of the learning environment.
One emotion that features a great deal at the start of something new is fear. Fear is often associated with rejection, of no longer being part of a group with which we want to be identified. If you have ever experienced rejection you will see why failure is so feared.
Having a sense of belonging* is one of our four basic needs as learners without it we find learning much harder. We need to recognise that this emotional state is often the starting point for many learners when faced with a new challenge. If we fail to consider it in our planning then we are being rather cruel and possibly limiting the success of learners.
I firmly believe LQ is an antidote to the fear of failure and leads to the sense of inclusion that builds belonging and leads to successful learning experiences.
If you want to find out more about LQ then follow this blog and Tweets from @4c3d. Please also remember if you would like to provide a workshop or organise a talk about LQ then your organisation can contact me by e-mail to make the necessary arrangements.
*Belonging is part of the “Please Be Child Friendly” approach developed by ace-d and stands for the 4 learning needs:
Power – Belonging – Choice and Fun.