‘Lesson planning’ or ‘Lesson documenting’?

When I started teaching back in 1998 I created a simple single side of A4 session plan template that stood me in good stead for my first few years of teaching (including many grade 1 inspections grades). Then when the team that I was in became a Centre of Vocational Excellence suddenly my template wasn’t good enough – I had to complete 4 sides of A4 per session, detailing my session to the finest detail and justifying everything that I did to ensure that I covered Key Skills, had different learning styles, differentiation etc….OK I recognise that these things are important, I don’t have a problem with that, but the format that we used to ‘plan’ the lessons didn’t actually help with the ‘planning’ process, nor was the 4+ page output easy to use during the actual session.

And this problem is not unique to my teaching experience. Just about every college in the land will have a lesson planning template that has been created which includes every little detail that an inspector may want to see, these templates are usually created in badly formatted word documents with the expectation that the tutor creates about 30 or so different files over the year with 1 per session.

A planning tool should be something that encourages (or at least allows) creativity, an ability for a tutor to easily move things around until they get the structure and balance of the session just right, and it is here that these templates are no longer ‘lesson planning’ tools, but ‘lesson documenting’ tools, and to add to the problem, many organisations try to create a single standardised format for all forms of learning. I used to teach a range of abilities including learners with severe learning difficulties, FE and HE and each different level actually needed a slightly different session plan. What about people that will be delivering the Diplomas – where you have consortia delivering the course – whose session planning template will you adopt, or will people create one just for the Diploma (which is what I would suggest).

Example of a mind mapped lesson plan

Example of a mind mapped lesson plan

So what do we need? – I think there needs to be a cultural shift to refocus the process of lesson planning, and we should look at tools that are quick and easy to use for tutors to create their lessons (for this I personally use Mind Genius) – once a lesson has been roughly mapped out by the tutor, they then need to be able to easily transport this information into the more formal ‘lesson documenting’ grid – where they can then complete the rest of the information.

One thing that I did do back in my teaching when confronted with the 4 page lesson plan format, was to use Excel to integrate my Scheme of Work with my lesson plans. This was created as a way of saving myself time as any information that was added into the scheme of work would automatically pull into the relevant lesson plans. This saved a lot of time and reduced pointless repetition (and subsequent errors) between the scheme of work and the plans. I also put the whole thing onto the VLE – so rather than printing my Scheme of Work and giving it to the learners in week 1 (only for it to be out of date by week 3) I gave the learners a URL which pointed to the Scheme of Work. This way if I made any alterations to the Scheme (as was always the case with me) the learners had an up to date version. I also gave the learners access to the session plans, this is not everyone’s idea of a good idea, but I had nothing to hide, and especially as I ran leadership units, giving them access to my session plans was a good resource in its own right.

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