Five-minute lesson plans: why they don't work

Five-minute lesson plans ignore the core of teacher development: reflection and evaluation, says Sam Jones
7th December 2020, 4:16pm
Sam Jones

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Five-minute lesson plans: why they don't work

https://www.tes.com/magazine/teaching-learning/general/five-minute-lesson-plans-why-they-dont-work
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If there are four words that strike fear into my heart as a teacher educator, they probably are "five-minute lesson plan".  

Is five minutes really all it takes an inexperienced teacher to plan a lesson? And is this apparently simplified formula as helpful as it seems? My answer to these questions is simple: no. 


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About four or five years ago, I ran a series of sessions for trainee teachers on planning. Each small group worked together for an hour to plan a 30-minute session for a given subject, and, as support, they were given copies of Geoff Petty's 25 Ways of Teaching Without Talking.

What happened in that training session is burned on to my memory.

The first thing to note is that planning the session was in no way a five-minute activity - and, actually, the planning ran so far over the allotted time that peer feedback had to be moved to the following lesson. 

This isn't entirely problematic, but the reason for it did trouble me. 

The purpose of lesson planning

For those of you lucky souls unfamiliar with the five-minute lesson plan, it is generally a document split into thirds. The top two thirds look at objectives, differentiation, Assessment for Learning (AfL) and other interesting concepts like "stickability". The final third looks at the learning activities that the students and teachers will be undertaking over the course of the session.

This disparity in focus underpinned my first issue. My trainees spent about three-quarters of their time dutifully filling in boxes in the top two-thirds entirely independent of planning any activities that would eventually be detailed in the bottom third of the document.

While this led to interesting conversations about how you can plan differentiation and AfL without yet knowing which activities you were going to be differentiating and assessing, it pointed to a real failing of this document for me. 

You see, it takes the focus away from the learning activities. Instead of focusing in depth on the activities that will move the learners to higher levels of understanding and learning, it instead highlights activities by which teachers are measured when observed. 

This raises interesting questions about the purpose of planning. Is it to plan well-constructed learning experiences that allow the lecturer to reflect on and develop their practice, or is it to cover your bum when you are observed?

Reflection and evaluation

These questions regarding purpose lead me nicely to the elephant in the room when it comes to the five-minute lesson plan. If its purpose is to help teachers to construct well-planned learning experiences, where is the space for reflection and evaluation?  These are important activities for all teachers, but especially important for trainees, so they can record what's gone right and wrong and to begin to understand why. 

When you look at a model like Schon's 1991 model of reflection in and on action, it can be really hard for new teachers to reflect in practice as they start their careers. 

At the start of learning their practice, new teachers are busy firefighting, learning to communicate concepts, watching for behaviours triggers, developing a routine. This makes reflection on action all the more important for them, although I would argue that all experienced teachers need to step away from their classroom and reconsider it from time to time. 

However, the five-minute lesson plan (at least the ones I have seen) don't allow space for this. This, for me, is related to ideas of "delivering" a session: you complete the task and move on. But moving on without reflection will not develop practice and our shying away from development of practice from within the sector often leads us into being told what to do from elsewhere. This leaves us being done to rather than doing for ourselves. 

This, as I have written regularly, is an issue that dogs teachers in the FE sector: being told what to do, being passive recipients of training and development rather than professional and active decision-makers and drivers. 

In a sector where efficiency is sometimes king, we lose sight of the fact that teaching is a practice that requires consideration and reflection. This is often what makes the best teachers, and this doesn't happen in five minutes. 

Sam Jones is a lecturer at Bedford College, founder of FE Research Meet and was FE Teacher of the Year at the Tes FE Awards 2019

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