An end to Lesson Plans

Before I ramble on with my next diatribe, I need to to lay my credibility credentials on the table with regard to what I’m about to say.

I’ve been a teacher in adult and further education since 1986 when I first qualified (I’d been teaching before that, but solely as an amateur). So I’ve been in the ‘ed biz’ for at least 33 years. I was also twice-elected President (and Fellow) of the Institute for Learning. I have a first-class honours degree in education, and am a published author on educational theory and politics.

Having got that out the way, here’s a radical statement.

I think experienced teachers should stop writing lesson plans.

There y’go. Got it off my chest. I’m sure I’ll cause shock-horror in traditionalist circles. But there is a reason for this radicalism.

The easiest way to explain it is to give an account of a session I taught today. It was part of the WEA ‘Big Ideas’ course, and was on the topic of Englishness and English identity. The session covered cultural, social and political issues (and took in Brexit as a side topic). I had two hours to deal with this much-vexed subject area.

I don’t write lesson plans very often these days, because after 33 years I can largely plan in my head. Not only that, but it allows me the flexibility to respond to issues as they arise, rather than coming to class with a ‘fixed’ view of what the students should be doing or engaging. As i happens, I was having a minor difficulty finding a good ‘entree’ into this topic. I was originally going to use some survey material I found on the ‘net, give it out the group, and let them work out some conclusions from it themselves. I wasn’t all that happy with this; it was a bit ‘dry’ and unexciting.

However, just as I was getting out of the car at the venue, I noticed I still had my mini whiteboards and pens that I sometimes use with groups. It dawned on my that I could use those to get them to write down their immediate answers to the query “What comes to mind when you talk about being English, as opposed to British?”. So I grabbed them, dropped the original idea, and used this approach instead.

It was good! They enjoyed it, became very involved and intrigued by the ideas that came up, and I was able to guide them from their ideas on the whiteboards to the concepts of cultural versus political identity. It was a huge success.

The moral of the story?

If I’d had a lesson plan I’d have been reluctant to abandon it (having invested the effort in all that writing). But worse still: if there’d have been an external observer present I’d have been very inclined to use the pre-organised printed version, rather than the spontaneity of what I came up with as I got out of the car. An observer would have demanded a relevant lesson plan, or they would have ‘marked me down’.

We really need to encourage teacher flexibility and spontaneity. Over-managed corporatism is stifling the capacity of experienced teachers to build on their professionalism and create learning sessions based on their expertise (rather then a preordained sequential plan, that does not recognise the cyclic, parallel, and reflexive issues of human social learning). A fixed plan makes for fixed sessions. Which is the last thing we really need.

So, here are my recommendations to educational providers:

a) Abandon corporate lesson plan forms. Instead, encourage teachers to create their own planning systems (based on some agreed key standards) and create a culture where planning systems are shared with others. Make it a positive asset to show innovation in planning!

b) Insist that written lesson plans are required from teachers only in the first two years of their post-qualification period, as evidence that they can implement planning in diverse situations. After that, there should be no requirement for written plans, except in special circumstances (as follows)

c) During special circumstances (such as inspection or quality audits) planning might be recorded ‘post facto’ (that is to say a record of what has been implemented AFTER the session) as a manner of exemplifying the thought processes that went into the session.

d) Evidence of planning would still be present, but this could be recorded by peer observation or staff interviews, rather than the usual paper-trail process.

I want to give power back to the people within the domain that counts: the student-tutor situation, rather than those who administer the institution. I want the education system to be staffed by people we have confidence in.

We can’t have this under the current penalising system. But we could do things differently, and gain in the process.