Here endeth the three-part lesson

4th May 2012 at 01:00

There is no stone tablet that decrees every lesson must consist of three sections. "And, yea, thou shalt teach every lesson as a perfect trinity. Thou shalt have no other lesson structure but this. He that forgeteth the starter activity, main section and plenary shalt be struck down and forsaken."

Unfortunately, some unimaginative headteachers seem to believe that the three-act lesson is a divine law.

They also think that "plenary" is a normal word to use in the classroom. Teachers have known for decades that it is good to check what their pupils have learned at the end of the lesson; they did not need a word borrowed from dull business conferences and international summits. When did teachers even start saying "plenary"? Actually, there is an easy answer to that: 1998, when the national strategies started arriving. But they no longer exist.

Ofsted is now telling schools it is a myth that it expects a rigidly planned three-act lesson, which is a positive step. Much of the problem may have come from unimaginative heads with a limited idea of what a safe lesson looked like. However, the chief schools inspector should remember that many previous "myths" about Ofsted's expectations were not invented by teachers; they were the result of a lack of communication by Ofsted with its contracted inspection teams, who continued to behave in a narrow- minded, tick-box way.

This week's special report (pages 4-7) offers alternatives to the three- act lesson, but is not intended as an all-out attack. There are many benefits to be had from starter activities and plenaries, as research into them has proved. Sticking to the classic structure of beginning, middle and end works in lessons, just as it works in novels, films, magic tricks and plays. However, those elements do not always need to be squeezed into the same lesson, and they do not necessarily need to involve starters or plenaries.

To paraphrase the film director Jean-Luc Godard, all lessons may need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But not necessarily in that order.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw


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