This head of department says that in embracing collaborative lesson planning, workload can be reduced substantially
“Don’t reinvent the wheel” could be the motto of the teaching profession. With time limited, we often find ourselves looking for a lesson that someone else has created, desperately searching TES Resources at 10pm or dusting off something created years ago that “just needs tweaking”. It’s time consuming, hasty and can be ill-fitting.
In my experience, there is another way.
Over the past few years, I have found that the best solution to the planning issue is engaging in real, meaningful, collaboration in planning. And to get that right, these are the five steps you need to take – I have laid it out as a tool for secondary, as that is my context, but it I hope it will work just as well in primary and special schools.
- Take the long view
The first step in planning collaboratively is to sit down together and consider your entire program of study. With exam classes, this is likely to be governed almost entirely by the specification, but at KS3 we have a lot of freedom in what we cover. What is the very best of your subject? What have you read recently that you are dying to use? What weaknesses are you finding further up the school that you want to address? By taking this step collaboratively you are drawing on a much wider array of experiences and are more likely to create something truly unique.
- Decide what to cover
Start with your first topic. What do you want to/need to cover? This will again depend on whether you have an exam specification to guide you. Even if you do, most give a lot of freedom in terms of case studies, examples and texts to teach. At this step, I’d suggest starting with a knowledge organiser. What do you want your pupils to know by the end of the topic? What should they understand? What skills should they have? This last one is vitally important in my subject. There is an array of generic geographical skills that they may be asked to apply to any topic (describe distribution, work out statistical significance, use a choropleth map) and there is always a danger that because they could be taught anywhere they end up being taught nowhere. Don’t slip on this step!
- Divide and conquer
Now for the fun part. Break the topic into individual lessons and discuss any rough ideas for those lessons. What could you cover? What activities could you use? Then decide who is going to plan and resource which lessons. This is where people can play to their strengths and team up with people who also have ideas for that lesson. I work in a department of four people. We always work this way and it means that I am only planning a quarter of my own lessons from scratch. The others just need a little adjustment for my own classes and teaching style (see step four).
- Set the culture
There is a potential pitfall to this kind of collaboration. I find that teaching someone else’s lessons is like wearing someone else’s underwear. It just doesn’t feel right. This is why this step is so important. Before anyone runs off and starts planning, it really helps if you have a common idea of what makes an excellent lesson. In our department we are clear on the anatomy of a lesson; of the component parts that need to be present (retrieval, a hook, knowledge, application, review) and it means it is very easy to have faith that everyone’s lessons will work well and gives continuity between them.
- Review and reflect
Finally, once the lessons and have taught and the excited echoes of children engaged in their excellent lesson has died away, it is time for a vital final step. The need to evaluate. This takes honesty and tact. Not every lesson will be perfect. People try new things and sometimes they are brilliant and sometimes they fall flat. Even with a clear lesson plan, or notes on a PowerPoint, a teacher may misunderstand how something was supposed to work. After we have finished teaching a unit we always sit down and discuss the strengths and weaknesses before adjusting for the future.
This is how we handle collaborative planning and it works very well for us. It significantly reduces workload and means that more time can be spent planning each lesson. It allows people to play to their strengths and share as a team. It means that reinventing the wheel becomes a real possibility.