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.

So You Want To Be A Teaching Assistants

A Review of The ATL Teaching Assistant Findings

Job Title

Most support staff (40%) are employed under the label of Teaching Assistant (TA) or Learning Support Assistant (LSA) with the array of other labels been used in a relatively low frequency (20%).  The Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) is still a relatively rare occurrence (17%) but only a 76% of HLTA were paid at the specified rate.  This suggests that schools are providing a learning support package which is focused on one-to-one or small group intervention and there seems little point of training to be a HLTA (55%).  We can also assume that other labels such as mentors are used to provide specific support packages.

Roles, Duties and Responsibilities

Support workers are likely to be involved in three main areas a) exam invigilation, b) group work and c) lesson cover.

  • Small Group Work

Support workers typical deliver small groups (40%) on daily or weekly (26%) basis which is supported by the number of TA or LSA (40%) who are employed within schools.  However, it is not clear what intervention these small groups are targeting but considering the curriculum needs it is likely to be numeracy, literacy and specific educational needs of individual students.

  • Lesson Cover

Support workers can expect to provide limited cover for other support staff (38%) and teachers (36%) during absence or illness which is supported by the number of support staff who undertook lesson cover (32%). Where lesson cover is provided it is likely to be daily or weekly which is a cause for concern for human resources, budgeting, support worker training needs and has litigation implications for the school.

Although 55% of support staff said that they did not provide cover for teaching staff they did provide cover for other support staff which has increased (22%).  This suggests that the use of teaching assistants to cover teaching staff who are ill or absence from the classroom is not widespread across the sector.

With regard to the provision of lesson cover support staff said that when providing cover they had to use teaching skills (72%) and needed to modify pre-set work (45%) and believed that the cover they provided was no different to a supply teacher (63%).  Suggesting that the training program offered to support staff need to include lesson delivery skills and lesson planning skills. The logical assumption which much be accept in the absence of further data is that the quality of learning is below the Ofsted standard of Good based on a lack of formal teaching qualifications (7%) associated with the role of the support workers.

Working Hours and Conditions

Support staff are working more than 21hrs per week (86%) and undertaking additional hours (70%) which is due to workload demands (67%).  It is very likely (74%) that support staff do not get paid for additional hours which have increased compared to last year (68%).  Suggesting that support staff are taking on ownership and professional responsibility for their performance within the school.

The additional working hours are related to more demands from students with behavioural or educational needs (74%) which is likely to be related to the statutory requirements of the inclusion policy, along with the increase diagnosis of students additional learning needs.  Although 49% of support workers indicated that the additional working hours were due to taking on extra duties and responsibilities.

The employment trend suggests that most support workers have contracts which mirror the school timetable and offer few additional hours outside of the timetabled day. However, 52% of support staff are on a yearly contract but the survey does not make it clear to the nature of the contract regarding pro-rata payment.

Nearly all support workers have a contract and job description (91%) but only 25% indicated that their job description was reviewed annually. Suggesting that the support workers performance management is not directly related to the terms and conditions outlined in their contract.  Although many schools may use a generic specification to allow for flexibility within the support worker provision.  As 60% of support workers said that the job description broadly represented their average working day.  However, there is a group of support workers (35%) who said that the job description does not reflect their current roles and responsibilities.

In terms of wages and pay agreements only 18% of support workers saw an increase in wage last year and very few support workers (16%) were paid an “enhanced rate” for undertaking additional duties such as lesson cover. Indicating that school management sees the provision of colleague (support worker) cover as part of the roles and responsibilities of a support worker.

Staff Training And Continued Professional Development (CPD)

Support workers stand a 50/50 (51%) chance of receiving an induction programing suggesting that schools are not delivering the required health and safety knowledge and skills to be both safe and maintain a safe workplace for staff and students.  It is also likely that support workers do not understand or are unaware of whole school policies which can be highlighted by the fact that 62% of support workers said that they did not know if their school had a rare cover policy.

Most support workers are paid for inset day (83%) but these often fall within the normal timetabled day (75%). With specific reference to CPD related to the role of the support worker, again they stand a 50/50 (53%) chance of attending offsite CPD.  Suggesting that schools are dependent on collective knowledge and skill sets offered by internal staff.

This approach to CPD could lead to a stagmentation in skills, knowledge and awareness of policy changes within the support team, reducing the quality of intervention and developing a sense of isolation.  This is support by the fact that 26% of support workers only received in house CPD and a further 28% had not asked for CPD.  Indicating that support do feel that they are able to access CPD or see no reason to undertaking CPD. Furthermore, 20% of support workers were told that there was no budget for CPD.

Qualifications and Awards

There are very few support workers who do not have a formal qualifications (13%) and most hold (31%) a NVQ level three award.  However, 35% of support workers hold qualifications between a foundation degree and the degree equivalent award.  This suggests that 66% of support workers have qualification at A’level or higher.  However, this does not translate into academic capacity as few support workers (10%) planned to take on line manager roles (3%) or become a teacher (7%).  To support this 35% of support workers said that they were happy with their current role and position but 30% indicated that they would be happy to progress within their current job role. This makes internal policies and support workers access to CPD critical.

Performance Management

Most school (85%) have a performance management system in place and of these 13% are based on performance related pay which represents a move towards support staff accountability.  To support this move 45% of support workers said that the school had a policy on lesson observations for support workers and 60% said that they had been observed by the senior leadership team within a whole class situation (87%) but most (64%) indicated that this was with a small group.  This highlights the critical need for support workers CPD and access to good pedagogical practice.

To quantify this point 71% of support workers have been in a classroom during an Ofsted lesson observation.  If the support worker does not have the correct skills to achieved the expectation of the Ofsted criteria for a good lesson then the teacher who is being observed will gain an unsatisfactory lesson grading.  This will be reflected in the overall Ofsted grade for the school.  However, 59%  of support workers feel that teachers are unskilled at deploying them within the classroom, suggesting that support workers are underused and underperforming.


The findings clearly and unmistakably indicate that support workers have limited training outside of the whole school training packaged provided for teachers.  In my experience this training does not tackle the pedagogical needs of teaching and/ or coaching of learners with specific learning needs which the findings suggest is the principle role of the support worker. It can be inferred from the data that schools believe it is the responsibility of the support worker to provide their own CPD or the support worker does not require specialised training to complete their specialised and specific intervention.

Support workers are expected to provide cover for other support workers during illness and absence with very few support workers indicating that they were providing cover for teachers.  Suggesting that other cover mechanisms are used to cover teaching staff during illness and absence, such as cover supervisors and supply teachers.

Working hours mirror the timetabled day and offer little overtime.  It is expected that the support worker undertakes unpaid overtime to complete paperwork and prepare for their daily duties as outlined in the job description.  The support worker is expected to perform to a baseline standard, which is monitored through lesson observations by the senior management.  Although the components of the assessment baseline are not identified by this study.  Performance management for support workers is common place but the assessment framework is unclear, as it typically does not relate to the support workers job description.  Performance related pay is starting to be used in schools but is a rare event.

ATL survey of teaching assistants 2013

The Deployment Of Teaching Assistants Within The Classroom, A Teachers Perception

For all stakeholders the deployment of the teaching assistant within the classroom is critical but even more so to the success of the teacher’s performance management in relation to the the ‘lesson observation’ against the Ofsted performance grade as outlined in the Ofsted: School Inspection Handbook (2013).

Quality of teaching grade descriptor – good

Teachers and other adults create a positive climate for learning in their lessons and pupils are interested and engaged.

Quality of teaching grade descriptor – outstanding

Teachers and other adults authoritatively impart knowledge to ensure students are engaged in learning, and generate high levels of commitment to learning across the school.

Statistically speaking a teacher is 80% likely to have a teaching assistant within the classroom during an Ofsted lesson observation (ATL survey of teaching assistants (2013)).  This means that it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the teaching assistants are using their knowledge and skills to creating, developing and maintain a positive learning climate where pupils are engaged within the learn experience.

The knowledge and skills which the teaching assistant brings to the classroom was highlighted by teachers as a major concern (Neill (2002)) arguing that the teaching assistant lack of subject specific knowledge creates more issues than they solve.  I would argue that it is not the responsibility of the class teacher to train the teaching assistant within the subject rather it is the school’s responsibility to ensure that the teaching assistant has these skills, knowledge and drive for the subject.

Bourke (2009) suggested that training should reflect a collaborative process which focuses on “reflection on learning” and “sharing meanings and understandings about effective support of all students.”  However, it is assumed that the teaching assistant has the subject specific knowledge and that the teaching assistant is given time to participate within shared planning.

Interestingly, Farrell et al. (2010)) found that the deployment of teaching assistants needs to be carried out with specific focus to the individual learning needs of each student rather than a small group of children scattered across the classroom.  This suggests that the deployment of the teaching assistant should be focused on sitting with an individual student or a small group sitting together within the classroom.  Where the teaching assistant would be responsible for the creation and maintenance a positive learning climate where the student is engaged and interested.  However, if the teacher assistant does not give the students time to work independently during the lesson then the student will become reliant on this support creating a situation of learned helplessness.

To support this Blatchford et al. (2011) concluded that teaching assistants need to undertake training which focuses on the pedagogical skills as these are the critical skills which teachers rely on when deploying the teaching assistant within the classroom.  The teachers assistant application of their pedagogical knowledge and skills are vital in establishing the engaging and interesting learning experience which teachers are required to deliver to achieve a ‘good’ during an Ofsted lesson observation.

Therefore, the deployment of the teaching assistant within the classroom is influenced by the subject specific knowledge and (pedagogical) skills which the teaching assistant brings.  Once in the classroom the teaching assistant needs to be placed in a location where they can target intervention without moving around the classroom whilst offering an opportunities to foster independent learning skills within the students. In doing so, allowing the teaching assistant to apply their pedagogical knowledge and skills to maintaining an engaging and interesting learning experience.