The Pilkington Principle?

The great philosopher that is Karl Pilkington once said “you never get anything done by planning”‘.   He also once asked “what were those things in Gremlins called” so I wouldn’t usually pay much attention to the musings of Mr Pilkington.  But I’ve started to wonder if, just for once, he might actually be right.

I’ve been thinking about planning and writing lesson plans a lot recently – my department is changing most of its courses again next year, in all Key Stages. This is the nature of the beast with ICT but it is a particular challenge this year since my school asks for lesson plans, in the school format, for every scheme of work. Without going into the individual courses we teach, I’ll say that there are a lot considering that we are a department of 5! Writing lesson plans is going to take a long time.  I am hoping that our courses aren’t out of date again by the time we finish.  Of course we have to plan lessons.  But how far apart is the process of planning from the act of actually writing a lesson plan? How many teachers find it a vital part of getting their freshly-minted inspirational ideas from brain to classroom – or depressing, productivity-sapping grind?

Take a look at the extract below, taken from Michael Wilshaw’s speech at the London Education Fair, on November 17th 2012:

“Good leaders recognise that while the different methods and orthodoxies slip in and out of fashion, the qualities that help, and make excellent teachers never change.  They are timeless and universal.

You’ll recognise the most important ones – an understanding that planning is important to a good lesson, but only as a framework in which the teacher can adapt to the changing dynamics of the classroom and the different needs of the children.”

There we are – planning is “important to a good lesson” but only as a “framework”  A framework, not a script.   Does reflective teaching lend itself to using a document the same size as a large-print copy of war and peace? I would love to know how many teachers teach the same lesson twice – surely most of us tweak something, even after what we would consider a “good” lesson?If Mr Wilshaw is telling us that it is OK to mentally run red-lines and crossings out through planning and plaster the good bits with gold stars (which we mentally all do anyway) then don’t we need to seriously think about the way in which we go about writing things down?

It also useful to recall Wilshaw’s words at the NCSL conference in June 2012;

“Ofsted inspectors will not arrive with a preferred teaching style or model lesson.
Lessons, of course, should be planned, but not in an overcomplicated or formulaic way. A crowded lesson plan is as bad as a crowded curriculum. We don’t want to see a wide variety of teaching strategies unless they have coherence or purpose.”

So there is no “preferred teaching style”. If this is true (and I really hope that current and future inspections will prove that it is) how can there be a preferred planning style? For how long can schools expect staff to use a standard lesson planning format?  How can different teachers in different subject areas fit their planning into a one-size-fits all document which doesn’t reflect differences in teaching style, or, more importantly, their students’ learning style?  Why do all lessons have to look the same? Isn’t a varied diet more interesting – and better for us? I was talking to someone about this recently who had experienced an SLT  lesson observation in their school and during the feedback they were told that their lesson plan was “not detailed enough’.  The SLT member then proceded to show them a 4 PAGE (4 PAGE!!) lesson plan as example of what they should have produced.

This is an extreme example and I hope, a rare one. Would this have happened at all in a climate where every decision in schools wasn’t motivated  by what OFSTED would think?

Perhaps more colleagues have to emerge unscathed from a Wilshaw era OFSTED inspection, before before schools have the confidence to start loosening the shackles in terms of how they ask their staff to approach lesson planning. On the basis of the last few years alone, that would be understandable.

So what are the alternatives?

This is where I point you towards the work of the mighty Ross McGill – AKA @TeacherToolkit.    His model of a 5 minute lesson plan – a simple lesson plan template allowing teachers to focus on the key learning in a lesson – has been spreading like wildfire across the twittersphere…
You can get it here.

 Ross shows a number of contributions on his own site, from other teachers  who have tried adapted the format to suit their own needs. They are well worth a look.

We spent our last department meeting looking at the 5 minute lesson plan – I had asked  everyone  to come with a lesson in mind that they needed to plan for the coming week.  We gave it a go and found that even within a department of 5 there were things about the format each of us might want to tweak to make it our own. We are going to do more work on the 5minLP, but were agreed that this was a simple format to use and allowed us to focus and drill down on what we wanted the students to learn.

I think this tweet, sent during last Sunday’s #SLTchat sums up in simple terms what we should concentrate on when planning..

If your planning is focused around the needs of your students then they will learn. If they learn they will make progress and surely a happy OFSTED inspector is the byproduct and not the focus of this.

Surely even Karl Pilkington couldn’t disagree with that..

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