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.

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