Lesson planning for the uninitiated – why time invested up-front pays off in the long run.

Colin Billett
28th September 2015 at 17:07

Colin Billett, Subject Genius, Lesson planning

If you are teaching in FE there’s a good chance that you are new to what you’ve been asked to teach.  The sector is notorious for advertising courses that don’t run, and doubling up on courses that are oversubscribed, so that teachers find themselves not teaching what they planned for over the summer, and will be teaching something for which they have no resources prepared, or a plan of how to deliver.   A daunting task indeed, but once it is done you will find the rest of the year so much less stressful and can get on with enjoying the job, which is how it should be.  The perils of not doing this are so apparent in any institution – the teachers who are printing resources for the next lesson in much needed breaks, or asking colleagues for something in a hurry.

Start in the obvious place, which are the specifications for the subject being examined, and just about everything ends up in some form of examination.  And you need these in a format you can work with, not a PDF document.  Cutting and pasting from PDF to Word seems tedious, if you can’t find a text version, but believe me, it soon becomes routine and well worth the time invested.  With the text you can use it in individual lesson plans, tracking sheets and other recording documents, which always impresses upon management that you are doing the job you are paid to do!

Certain exam boards now offer a scheme to cover the 2017 syllabus in the last three years of schooling.  An FE teacher is lucky to have thirty weeks of teaching, and after loosing a couple of weeks for assessment and setting, and others around Christmas and other holidays, twenty four weeks is a more realistic expectation, hopefully leaving time for revision and exam practise. Much chopping needs to be done, and a deal of confidence that the adults or school leavers with you actually have far more skills and knowledge than people tend to give them credit for.  In my schemes of work I have a list of things in which I put everything I hope they can already do, which includes things to do with operations on number, rounding, estimating and approximating, units of measure, telling the time, and anything else I judge could be worked out from past exam questions, with a bit of help from one another in the classroom.

After chopping as much as you can, see if think you’ve got it down to twenty four weeks, and if not, have another go.  Adults and youngsters may well resent covering what they consider to be childish, and on the other hand giving them credit for the great deal they already know will help boost their confidence, and promote the notion that you respect and recognise what they bring to the classroom.  So if you think a reasonably bright office worker, or someone doing a level three qualification in Public Services, should be confident in working with percentages, don’t set aside a week covering those.  Worry about things that are notoriously difficult to grasp, like algebra, or those that seem incomprehensible like the four rules of fractions, or those that require a great deal of knowledge, for example geometric theorems, and don’t worry about everyday mathematics.

Next you need to put what remains of the specifications into order, and the decision is yours.  There really are very few things that need to be done in a particular order.  For example, you don’t need to teach them how to multiply before you tackle areas, or even areas before volumes of solids.  Mixing topics together helps the learners to see the connectedness of the subject.  So why not begin with some algebra, and get the learners thinking in abstract terms from the start?  Get in early with simple statistics – finding measures of central tendency, and discussing the benefits of each, is a great way of showing the uses of mathematical skills, and the means by which we get so much information in our lives.  The main thing is to mix it up.  I want to scream when I see schemes that spend six weeks on number, then six on geometry, and so forth.  This is a poor approach to learning, and research shows that distributed practice is far more effective.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_Practice). So when you plan each lesson, drop something in from the week before, something from what’s to come, and a few assorted questions from across the syllabus.  Even if you haven’t ‘taught’ it, there’s no reason to suppose the learners can’t do it, and someone in the class almost certainly can.

There are of course problems with this method of rigid planning, and teachers often say they need flexibility.  So what happens if you review the previous week, and it is clear that the learning you hoped for has not taken place, not to the degree you hoped?  This is why we need to build in some slack – set aside a couple of weeks each term for either doing something again, but differently, or doing the lesson that didn’t happen because something prevented it, such as adverse weather, or a group going out on a trip.  And never plan anything for the last week of term, but use it to do a bit more of that distributed practice, with some past papers.

Finally, when you have a scheme that covers the year, and satisfies management, put each week into a PowerPoint.  Again, it sounds tedious and time consuming, and it is, but by setting up six or so slides with the basic headings for each lesson, you can cut and paste the aims, objectives, resources etc. from your scheme, which by now is in Word or similar.  Once you get into the swing of it, you can dash off a whole year in a few hours.  Handouts from PowerPoint are easy to make, to give to managers, observers, or absent learners who want to know what they have missed.  And you can maybe put the whole lot on a college learning system, and never need worry about what you are doing next, again.

Examples of mine:






Colin Billett has recently retired after teaching in schools and colleges across the Midlands.