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Throw away your script

WHEN did you last notice your dentist suddenly stop drilling and start flicking through a pile of A4 sheets detailing every step for filling a cavity? Or a builder carefully consulting a ring binder every time he throws a shovelful of sand into his mixer? Or your hairdresser or car mechanic constantly glancing at strategically placed pieces of paper?

Why is it that teachers - uniquely it seems - are deemed to be so hopelessly incompetent that they need detailed, often repetitive instructions, commonly known as lesson plans, to get them through every hour of the day? Even heart surgeons don't have a pile of notes sitting next to their scalpels. And if they did we would be worried.

The obsession with detailed lesson plans is out of control, especially in primary schools. The simple business of preparing a lesson has been elevated into an over-elaborate and unnecessary ritual. Which is bizarre, since every teacher knows the two immutable laws of lesson plans.

Law one is that lessons never go according to plan. Law two is that however elegant a plan may look, this will have no bearing whatsoever on the effectiveness of the lesson.

Good lessons do not require mass-produced plans on a laptop. What they need are teachers who know their subject, are enthusiastic, can motivate their pupils and can explain things in ways which everyone is able to understand.

This is not to say that we should ever go into any lesson unprepared. It's too risky. But all we need on the table beside us are a few notes jotted down in an exercise book - the scruffier the better.

If we don't overcome this widespread planning neurosis we could soon be referring to A4 sheets in order to make a cup of tea in the staffroom. It's time we lessened our plans.

Alan Kerr is a teacher and writer

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