In Defence of Detailed Written Plans

I didn’t write a lesson plan for the first 5 years of my teaching career. It was a mistake.

For starters, my claim may be hard to believe for many teachers; how did I get away with such a lax approach? I taught in an independent school in Highgate. No lesson plans were required, observation was frequent but informal and observation grades were an alien concept until I joined the GTP in my 6th year.  The fact that this may surprise many teachers is a sign of a disconnect between the maintained and independent sectors, which manifests itself in many areas.

From my external perspective, the above conversation is funny; Sam now teaches at Highgate and Katharine has (as far as I’m aware) always worked in the state sector. Whilst, to Katharine, no observation grades may have been ‘unthinkable’ 10 years ago, this was exactly what Sam’s independent school was doing then (though it was long before he worked there).

Anyway, back to the main point: I love a debate, and this time I’m taking on two big names: @teachertoolkit and @teacherhead, who have both made a similar point in recent blogs.

Whilst these blogs make some excellent suggestions (click the extracts above to see the whole blogs), they both suggest avoiding written lesson plans. On the contrary, I think we should strongly encourage teachers to write down lesson plans.

A detailed written plan is like a path worn into the hillside.

When I come to teach a topic, what do I have at my disposal? I have years of classroom management experience, an understanding of major misconceptions that pupils have in my subject, but do I remember the finer details of when I last taught the topic two years ago? Probably not. Even if I think I do, my memories are not necessarily accurate.

A friend of mine once explained why, as a classicist, he loves paths: they represent years of accumulated knowledge and experience. As a teacher, my written plans are my paths. When I head in a direction that leads to dead-ends or rocky ground, I backtrack and find a different route. In this way, the best path becomes more worn and so easier to follow over time. As a Mountain Leader, I am capable of navigating away from paths, but when doing so I’m less likely to point out the interesting geological features or flora and fauna along the way.

To be fair to @teachertoolkit, their post suggests that there shouldn’t be an obligation to write lesson plans, which I suppose I agree with. And if you read the detail,@teacherhead says that teachers should have a list of objectives and resources, which is what my ‘lesson plans’ mostly contain. To be precise, I’m not specifically advocating individual lesson plans (though they may be useful for some teachers) but rather ‘topic plans’. However, I don’t believe that ‘lesson planning’ should feature on such lists because this suggests to teachers and managers that written plans are not helpful. For me, if you write down a plan, update it after the lesson to emphasise good bits and delete or alter what went badly, this will reduce your workload in the long-term, as you don’t have to plan afresh every year.

I learnt a lot of ‘big-picture’ ideas in my first 5 years of teaching, but many of the finer details were lost; which examples and tasks drew out the point well and which turned out to be too simple or complicated. I met so many interesting ideas, but many don’t feature in my teaching because I didn’t write them down.

I started to write detailed plans in earnest 4 years ago: a few of them I now deem good enough to warrant sharing online. However, I still look at them and ponder how much clearer the paths would be if I had been walking them for longer.

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