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When I hear the word planning I automatically think: “Fail to plan. Plan to fail”.  However, when it comes to planning lessons Lean Lesson Planning by Peps Mccrea [1] suggests that we should channel Dwight Eisenhower who allegedly said : “Plans are worthless but planning is everything”.


flickr phot credit – Joel Montes de Oca

The book’s 116 pages (with a nice big font and big margins) manages to combine the wisdom of Hattie, Lemov and Wiliam in one slim volume and encourages teachers to view planning as a “process rather than a product”.

He suggests that teachers start with the questions “where do I want my students to get to?” and “what do I want my students to have learned by the end of the lesson?” This method of “backward design” is recommended by Hattie[2] and others because it has been observed that the most effective teachers spend more time identifying the outcomes and less time selecting activities than other colleagues.[3] Starting with excessive clarity about what you want your students to be able to do should allow you to identify a range of learning milestones (tasks that your students are unable to do at the start of the lesson but with your support they achieve by the end for your lesson). Leading Learners writes about this in depth in his excellent blog post “Classroom excellence demands destination clarity”.[4]

The next step of lean planning is to build in activities which allow you to know where your students are on their journey. Building in methods to check understanding are often under utilised and when they are not planned carefully we can rely too much on single student questioning which gives us information about an individual but not about the whole class. As we start a new academic year I want to use much more multi student questioning, perhaps with, mini whiteboards to have students answer planned multiple choice questions to check understanding. Some of this will involve questions which check knowledge acquisition but I would like to become more skilled at framing multiple choice questions which highlight common misconceptions. Exit passes (or socrative) can provide a useful alternative to plenaries with students: having a class answer 3 to 5 questions on a slip of paper which is handed in before students leave the classroom will provide useful assessment data.

When planning how you can help your students get to their learning destination Mccrea suggests we think in terms of: “What is the least that needs to happen for my students to make progress towards their next learning milestone?” and then select activities which allow our students to take “the shortest path.” (Lemov). It is important to build challenge into the process and to keep students out of the comfort and confusion zones. Mccrea reminds the reader that the “low floor high ceiling task” which is accessible to all but can be taken as far as the student is able and the “all start no finish” task which is a graduated series of questions were all students can answer the first question but no one can answer the last are lean ways build in challenge. @Headtacherguru provides some advice if stretching students is your pre term resolution in his Pedagogy postcard 19-pitching it up[5]

The role of feedback in helping students on their learning journey is crucial. Well structure peer feedback and self assessment can be used alongside a well timed piece or oral feedback as well as more formal written feedback. McCrea reminds us for feedback to be most effective it must

  • Close the gap between where students are and the next learning milestone
  • Focus on how students can move on rather on what went wrong
  • Go alongside opportunities to put feedback into practice (DIRT)
  • Focus on the smallest thing that will help students make progress.

it is important to remember that to  consolidate learning we also must build in spaced learning techniques [6] and plan to reactivate the initial learning not just in the next lesson and revisit the learning a few weeks later.

In conclusion, Mccrea says there are 4 non negotiable aspects to consider when starting to plan a lesson.

  • Where are the learners starting from?
  • Where do you want (need) them to get to?
  • How will you know when they get there?
  • How can you best help them get there?

I am going to add a fifth:

  • How do I ensure they retain what they have already learned?

More information from Peps Mccrea found at The 7-habits of highly effective lesson plans

1 Lean Lesson Planning Peps Mccrea (2015)

2 Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement John Hattie (2008)

3 Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better Doug Lemov 2012

4 Leadinglearner.me/2015/02/17/classroom-excellence-demands-destination-clarity/ accessed on 25/9/2015

5 http://headguruteacher.com/2014/04/25/pedagogy-postcard-19-pitching-it-up/ accessed on 25/9/2015

[5] http://www.innovationunit.org/sites/default/files/Spaced_Learning-downloadable_1.pdf accessed on 25/9/2015o

[6] edium.com/@pepsmccrea/the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-lesson-plans-f785f1f8974e accessed on 25/9/2015