I figured that since this is going to be an unpopular blog, I might as well start off with the worst of it and prepare myself for the flack.
I re-tweeted an article from today’s TES written by Kris Boulton in which he considers the possibility that teachers ought to increasingly be consumers of well-designed curricula, rather than being responsible for all aspects of teaching themselves.
Now, as with any piece, I’m sure he’d have loved to have discussed the finer details at some length – and he certainly hasn’t said it’s a done deal – but as equally often happens, there are those (particularly in the primary sector) who are quick to denounce any change to the status quo, as if we’d somehow achieved perfection in our education system.
I rather suspect that the use of the word “planning” in my tweet confused the matter. So let me try to set out more what I took from Kris’s interesting article.
As I’ve said in the title, I think that most primary teachers’ planning is poor. I don’t mean that teachers are bad at their job, but rather that the nature of the job – in which there is always too much to do – means that planning has to fight for its time against everything else, and so is too often focussed in the short-term.
Of course, it’s absolutely right that individual classroom teachers should be the final arbiter of what occurs in any given lesson. And when primary teachers use the word ‘planning’, I think this is what they think of. They might consider a scheme of work of a few weeks, but rarely anything on a larger scale. And that’s great – that’s absolutely where the focus should be.
I’m not arguing – as Nick Gibb once did – for the nonsense idea that teachers should be able to laminate their plans and never change them. Far from it. In fact, I often argue that writing individual lesson plans is probably one of the most wasteful things teachers do. I’m arguing that because of the demands on our time in the here-and-now, it is impossible for teachers to devote time to thinking of things on a longer scale.
I’ve spoken before about my preference for ‘mastery’ approaches that organise learning in larger blocks. But I’m also aware that in constructing my own school’s curriculum, I am frankly just an amateur. Now, I can’t imagine anyone who knows me suggesting that I know nothing about curriculum planning, but the reality is that I’m not an expert in the best ways to sequence content, or organise the major blocks of work. I’m a mathematician by training, but even then there is much that I don’t know about the best sequence for a curriculum.
What I am good at (I like to think) is judging how most effectively to convey ideas to the pupils in front of me; how to adapt my teaching to their responses; how to identify those who need a challenge or a hand; how to ask just the right question at the right time.
I don’t want anybody to provide me with a plan that says what to say, when. I don’t want the list of prescribed questions to ask. I don’t even want a weekly plan that tells me what objective to teach each lesson.
But I’d love a framework that clearly sets out what has been found to be the most effective time to introduce fractions work, and what key learning should be secured first to underpin it. Even better if it came with some clear examples that would help to build in the sort of intelligent practice that we now know makes sense.
Of course I want to be able to deviate from it. Of course I need to be able to plan how I organise my week, and to decide the specific contexts I use. Of course I should have the final say about the way in which the children in my class are taught. But as Bodil Isaksen once wrote in her blog: A lesson is the wrong unit of time.
“Planning” – in the sense of the act of sitting down each week with your team partner and deciding what next week’s lessons will look like, should absolutely remain in the control of the classroom teacher. But the framework that underpins it is too often a secondary thought at the moment (if it exists at all) – and I don’t think we should rule out the possibility that a thoroughly researched and designed framework might improve the quality of our planning by providing the expertise that we cannot all have.
I don’t imagine my explanation will have made my view any more popular. But if just a few read it and it calms their initial irrational disregard for the possibility, then maybe something is achieved.
If not, I’ve just garnered a few more enemies in the sector I love.