Planning: what is it good for?

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It’s the beginning of the school year and my thoughts have turned to planning. Because good planning is essential to effective teaching, right? I mean, you wouldn’t want to drive over a bridge or fly in a plane that had been built without a robust plan being in place to guide the construction process. The same applies to teaching. If you want to teach students to read, it’s essential to have a robust plan to guide you how to do it. But there is a caveat to that statement.

If you are familiar with this site, you will be aware that it is devoted to exploring the impact that an “evidence-based” approach to teaching and learning can have. And too often, in an education setting, I see a disconnection between the plan and the actual learning taking place in the classroom. In the case of plans for a bridge or plane, if the plans were shoddy or not followed correctly, the consequence would be clear and obvious for all to see. We would have the evidence.

But in teaching, that is not necessarily the case. In teaching, plans are drawn up but the outcomes of implementing those plans are less apparent. There seems to be a disconnection between the planning and the outcomes. Of course this has something to do with the fact that the evidence in a teaching context is less tangible – unlike being able to see that the bridge did not collapse or the plane did not crash.

I want to use my experience in teaching 5 year olds as an example. When it came to teaching writing, in the beginning I just copied what my colleagues were doing. I implemented their plans. But soon after, out of necessity, I started to do something different. I started to look at my customers. And my customers were not happy. Nor were they getting better at writing. For example, some children were distressed by the challenge of producing written words on a page. It made me think. I did some investigations. I discovered that it is quite normal for 5 year olds not to be developmentally or cognitively ready to begin formal writing. I discovered that having a good grasp of oral language and an ability to read made a significant difference to a child’s ability to turn ideas into words on a page. I also figured out the mechanics of writing and constructed a plan to teach those mechanical aspects.

In the end, I managed to create a plan to teach writing based on the actual needs of the students in front of me. I modified my writing plan over time, based on the feedback and evidence I was receiving from the students. I tested my teaching against the actual competencies of the students. In the end I could see that their achievements were as a result of my deliberate inputs. My planning became a dynamic document. I was using the evidence to inform my planning. Plan, deliver plan, observe, modify plan, deliver….

I would like the role of planning in a teaching context to be seen in this light. Planning needs to be seen as part of effective pedagogy. Just because the result of poor planning in a classroom may not be life threatening, it does not mean that failure doesn’t exist.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Reframing educational outcomes – counting what counts

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Look what I made. Now let tell the world about it.

There are times that I have to remind myself of the purpose of this blog. To “inform, illuminate and inspire” was my original intent. I hope I am doing that. Documenting my thoughts and observations of the learning journey taking place in my classroom has certainly been valuable for me. There are also times when I am reminded of why I love my role in the classroom so much. It wasn’t always like that though. It has taken a lot of reflection and determination.

The current education model wants to count everything and hold everyone to account. It’s a model that stifles creativity and discriminates against many students.

I have also been inspired by the marvelous research that keeps prompting my curiosity and validating my experience. My journey, has in fact, been about breathing life into that research. It’s easy to read it and agree with it. But it’s another thing entirely to put it into practice. What I am aspiring to achieve looks and feels very different to what we typically see. There really is an confirmation bias towards maintaining the habits that keeps us wedded to the status quo, even though it’s not really working. It seems easier to stick to the status quo rather than venture into the unknown. To do so would require a significant leap of faith to get better answers to the questions,

  • What will good education outcomes looks like?
  • Will children really learn?
  • What will the learning environment look like?

Yong Zhao is a source of inspiration and validation.  He speaks about the danger of standardised testing (ie National Standards) and the need to reframe a discussion around educational outcomes. He is the editor of a new book on education called Counting What Counts. The current education model wants to count everything and hold everyone to account, according to Yong Zhao. It is too narrow, too impersonal, too linear, too focussed on the short term. It’s a model that stifles creativity and discriminates against many students.

The use of technology to deliver content means that teachers will be freed up to be more human and to help children develop socially and psychologically.

He describes the current model of teaching as a deficit one. Rather than the 3 R’s being the foundation of learning, they have become the ceiling. We need a model that allows individuals to flourish. A system that motivates and engages students. A system that works for all students equally. Teachers are still seeing themselves as deliverers of information. But that approach is should be redundant. We now have the technology to do that. Technology needs to be used to allow students to be creators rather than consumers. The real value in technology is its ability to amplify the learning, to enable it to be shared and invite collaboration.

I agree with Yong Zhao when he says that technology will not replace teachers but it will play a key role in delivering information. And this is the part that I like the most. It is the raison d’etre of this site. The use of technology to deliver content means that teachers will be freed up to be more human and to help children develop socially and psychologically. Sound familiar? These are all topics that I have already discussed on this blog in previous posts.

Fortunately, I have seen both of the education environments that he describes. I know which one the little people in our classroom would prefer. And I know the one that would really allow them to thrive.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

An interview with Yong Zhao can be found below.

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