Visualising Learning Through Lesson Planning

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

Lesson planning is one of those issues which never seems to be resolved and is often associated with questions like ‘this is a waste of time,’ ‘I don’t have time to plan lessons,’ ‘what are Ofsted looking for,’ ‘why can’t we use the five minute lesson plan,’ and ‘they don’t plan like this in my friends school.’  However, this blog will not directly address these questions, rather it will take the standpoint of ‘how does a lesson plan visualise learning.’ Through visualising learning, teachers can explicitly show the key learning steps, associated assessment and student outcomes during a given lesson.  After all this is the fundamental purpose of a lesson plan.

Taking the five-minute lesson plan, presented by McGill at TeacherToolKit in 2010, see figure one below. It is clear this process is about visualising, in an explicit way, the intended learning for a given lesson.  However, Ofsted expectations have changed over the years which has led to the ‘leading to’ concept.  The ‘leading to’ concept simply means that everything you do is leading to something else, in this case leading to an increase in learning, through progression and attainment.  For example, upon completing activity one the learners will have the knowledge/ skill to tackle activity two. This infers that there must be some form of assessment at the end of activity one to make sure that the learners have successfully mastered the knowledge/ skill. In old school money, this is the ‘mini plenary’ where the teacher would formally challenge and check learning has taken place, using quick and simple assessment activities like questioning and quizzes. This would be the informal, yet explicit, monitoring of learning gained through teacher observation and student intervention and support.

SampleFiveMinLessonPlanFigure one) Five-Minute Lesson Plan, McGill 2010 (access from)

This highlights the critical element which good and outstanding teachers do autonomically and that is, using learning (reflective) cycles.  For example,  a) Plan, Do, Review or b) Teach, Try, Apply, Test or c) Activate, Share, Consolidate (See Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction). The learning cycle concept is one of the key features which lesson plans are trying to explicitly capture. Thus, any visualisation of lesson planning needs to reflect a learning cycle. The principle issues with this, is that, as teachers, we all have our own special version of a learning cycle. Indeed, I have three core learning cycles which I use with different learners.  For example, if I am working with learners who require more support I would use a learning cycle like: Activate, Tell, Explain, Demonstrate, Try, Address, Consolidate, Test.  For a more able group of learners, I may use the following cycle: Activate, Explore, Consolidate.  This links back to that infamous statement, ‘this lesson plan does not reflect the needs of the learners.’  I will purposefully ignore the sub-debate about the meaning of keywords within a learning cycle i.e. does the word apply infer the word test.

On the five-minute lesson plan, this learning cycle could equate to one learning episode (activity), depending on how the plan is filled in. However, there are some practical issues with this approach.  For example, the learners are completing coursework/ controlled assessment.  It could be argued that a lesson of this nature only has one learning episode (student log onto computer and continue with controlled assessment).  However, if we take a more micro approach, even this type of lesson will have discrete learning episodes.  Teachers do not sit silently, without interacting during the controlled assessment.  There is a continual monitoring and tracking process where the teacher is informally, either directly or indirectly, monitoring the work rate and engagement of the learners. This process, in its self, creates a cycle and therefore, can be explicitly indicated on the lesson plan.

Figure 2, below, offers a restructured and modified five-minute lesson plan which attempts to explicitly express the cycle within each learning episode. Using the coursework/ controlled assessment lesson, it highlights that there is still a repetitive cycle which the teacher is following.


Figure two) Five Minute Lesson Plan – Modified (download Ms Word version here)

Why Is Visualising Learning Through Lesson Planning Important?

Here comes that old cliché, ‘to ensure that the learners are moving forward with their learning.’  However, it is much more than this.  It is how teachers move from novice to good and outstanding teachers, as expressed above.  Critically, it is also how teachers become reflective practitioners. Teachers who recognise the structures which are in play within the classroom are more able to control or manipulate these structures to their advantages e.g. control behaviour, accelerate learning, capture students’ imagination or re-engage learners.

Personally, I would argue, that teaching is the integration of a multitude of cycles or subroutines which good and outstanding teachers do, for the most part, autonomically.  These cycles interact and in many cases act as a symbiotic relationship, as the teacher becomes good these symbiotic relationships are formed and become implicit (hard to explain).  I will write more about this in the future but allow me to illustrate. As teachers, we are continually asking key questions, such as ‘are the students engaged,’ ‘do the students know what the lesson is about’ or ‘does the student know how to be successful.’ A novice teacher explicitly considers these questions because they have not developed a) the skills or knowledge to recognise if a student is not engaged, b) select the best approach to tackle none engaged students and c) integrated these broad themes to create a seamless approach (symbiotic relationship) to tackling none engagement within the learning environment.

I have suggested how lesson plans are used to explicitly visualise learning and assessment, highlighting that this process promotes professional development and learners progression, whilst inferring that these two factors are positively collated.

Visualising Learning Through Lesson Planning
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