I remember that day, 21 years ago, when I walked into my first ever departmental meeting on my first ever inset training day. As an NQT, I had everything in place – a plethora of great lessons hoarded from teaching placements and from other NQTs, and a scheme of work that I had borrowed and photocopied from the department. It made War and Peace look like a light lunchtime read!
I religiously followed that Scheme of Work, and planned lessons accordingly. It was my bible.
Twenty one years later, I wonder whatever happened to that most prescriptive of tomes – because for the most part, it probably just sat there gathering dust – as many do, if the truth be told.
Why? Because I eventually found out that education shouldn’t be prescriptive. Certainly, learning and understanding shouldn’t. For me, I found out that education is not based on schemes of work acting as road maps to follow religiously to ensure you reach a certain place.
Yes, there will be curriculum plans, maps, development plans and schemes of work in place – and as an NQT you have to follow procedures. But use these as working, living documents – not as something to store away, only to then blow the cobwebs off when Ofsted appear.
I’m amazed when I see educational documentation and notice they have never been written on, never changed, never challenged. For me, the scheme of work was my starting point and something that should constantly evolve and be used – indeed, if in place, shouldn’t they really be your main planner?
Instead of planning lesson in minute detail – only for the pace of learning and understanding to negate all of your efforts – why not simply plan when and how you are going to challenge students to progress?
High levels of challenge on a regular basis equals engagement, excitement and progression. How do you do this…?
Spoon-feeding success isn’t teaching. And it certainly doesn’t assist understanding. If this was the case, we’d simply give students a text book at the start of Year 7 and tell them “we’ll see you at the exam in five years’ time!”
For me, teaching isn’t about simply teaching and learning – it’s about developing a youngster’s understanding. That’s why lessons must be pitched at a level that challenges students, and whilst past learning can be touched upon, progression can only really be shown and reached if students don’t ‘get it’ straight away.
Question is, and especially when being observed or you’re short of time when up against delivering a syllabus, is – are you prepared to take the gamble of students not being successful? As for those dreaded inspections and observations – if you are to show progression in 20 or so, surely you have to show some kind of failure or lack of understanding first?
Challenge often comes from outstanding questioning. Outstanding learning, and then outstanding understanding, comes from outstanding questioning.
Don’t spend all your time planning lessons with a plethora of detail – spend it wisely, by planning your questions. This can be to whole groups, pairs, individuals etc. And as you get to know your students, you’ll know what challenges them, what type of questions challenge them.
And always aim high. Don’t let your students off the hook by asking closed questions. Fuel their imaginative fires by starting questions with the likes of “How might…?” rather than “What does…?”; and “Why will…?” rather than “Where did…?”.
It’s a word I’ve constantly hated during my two decades of teaching. Yes, all youngsters are different, but isn’t this just a lazy tag that NQTs follow in their lesson planning like a puppy following its owner?
I’d prefer to use a much less jargonistic word – support.
Plan your lessons based on challenge and questioning to support – obviously lesson content will be planned too, but what if things go wrong or they actually go far better than expected? Or if students are learning and understanding at different rates? Heaven forbid, eh?
That’s when your skills and flexibility as a (newly qualified) teacher really is tested.
So instead of planning an all-singing, all-dancing range of tasks, activities, outcomes, etc. etc… simply ensure what teaching and personal skills you are going to utilise when support is really needed.
A fully qualified teacher since 1995, Anthony’s specialism is PE, but he also teaches RE and History at GCSE level, PHSE in Key Stages 3 and 4, and has experience of Literacy and Numeracy at Key Stage 2. Although his main experience is of teaching students aged 11-18, he has taught at all Key Stages and so has accumulated a wide range of classroom management and teaching/learning styles and strategies over two decades.
He has 16 years experience as a middle leader, in both pastoral and academic fields. Amongst his roles have been Head of Faculty, Head of Department, Head of Year, and School Sport Co-ordinator. He has successfully taken on a number of different responsibilities within schools, both whole-school and targeted, for example: Staff Governor, School Interview team, Head of Careers, Head of PHSE, Head of Sixth Form, Head of Transition, amongst many others. Anthony has led whole-school and targeted CPD/INSET/Training on a number of educational focuses, both pastoral and academic, and has experience of successfully leading teams through seven Ofsted/HMI inspections. Away from education, he has played professional and semi-professional sport; edits his own magazine; and has written for a number of leading national newspapers and magazines.