Learning the lesson

Martin Robinson’s excellent blog post about the importance of subject knowledge and experience in teaching https://martinrobborobinson.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/the-51-year-lesson-plan/ led me to reflect on how student teachers learn to plan effective lessons. This is an issue that colleagues discuss regularly.

Student teachers in England and Wales (average age 26) bring to the profession a wealth of experience and knowledge. Overtime, universities have become expert at identifying the individual potential to develop pedagogical expertise built on strong subject knowledge, understanding of children, open mindness, experience and good interpersonal skills. Once enrolled on a course, it is important that the student both recognises and enhances subject knowledge in order to plan effectively. The art of primary teaching is to turn expertise and passion into learning accessible and achievable across a wide range of characteristics, abilities, background and interests in a class of children any two of whom can have ages more than 11 months apart. One of the challenges for primary student teachers is to recognise, remember, use and be passionate about the knowledge they bring with them in order to plan lessons in ten subjects. Faced with this task, a range of strategies are used; the most obvious and ineffective being searching the Internet late at night. If student does not use her/his own knowledge, the purpose of the learning will be lost along with the intrinsic motivation of the pupils. Instead an activity found on a website is delivered with the help of motivational stickers, house points etc. 

The lesson plan allows a student to think through how she/he will break down knowledge in order to teach effectively.  A lesson plan reflects an essential process far more significant than the completion of a grid on a piece of paper.  One of the key skills is to get into the mindset of the age/class being taught and this will not happen if the student sees the lesson plan as just another proforma. Formulating effective questions and clear instructions requires thought and the lesson plan allows a student teacher to work through the learning in a way that compensates for a lack of experience. If a student does not plan, the learning is likely to be limited becauses questions are too hard or too easy, instructions are not followed, activities are pitched poorly, resources inhibit rather than support progress etc. On the other hand, if a lesson plan takes all night to write, the teaching will be tired and the student teacher’s health is compromised. Therefore students learn to plan quickly and effectively by using their own knowledge to question, instruct and scaffold learning for a class whilst nurturing the individual child. In achieving this, students need to be supported by teachers who understand the learning processes of both the children in class, in relation to the curriculum, and the student teacher in relation to planning.  No one learns to plan lessons overnight. Some students take time to grasp the process. If a student teacher is unsupported, she/he may spend longer and longer on an approach that does not work. We are blessed with a profession that includes a high proportion of brilliant, experienced teachers who have the knowledge and pedagogy to deliver learning without a written lesson plan whilst understanding the need for a student to learn the planning process. Through partnership between universities and schools, primary students with potential to teach learn to plan by bringing together their rich subject knowledge and understanding of children in a process that is effective and manageable. They may use the five minute lesson plan flow chart (and it is very useful)http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan/ but to create rather than replace, in Robinson’s terms, a 26 year lesson plan. 

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