Why lesson planning is like a marriage - Clare Jarmy in TES

Posted on 04th January 2017

In a recent article for TES, Clare Jarmy flies in the face of accepted wisdom by suggesting that lesson planning is better when undertaken in partnership with students.

Convention suggests that lesson objectives, planned activities and exam board specifications should be imposed on students by their teachers. It is the teacher’s responsibility to devise what the students are going to learn, and how they’re going to do it.

Lev Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist, argued that the teacher is the central support in guiding students from the kinds of tasks they can do already and from the kinds of tasks that are so far beyond them that they are unachievable. Says Clare: “Obviously, where the next step lies might be different for each child: effective learning means that teachers need to respond to each student.”

Although we know that excellent lessons are relational and responsive, lesson planning tends not to be. There is, of course, a good reason why teachers plan lessons – not least, that students don’t know what they are about to learn. However, teachers can then be faced with the dilemma of whether they should stick to what they have planned or respond to the direction in which students take them.

Clare observes that teachers too frequently pursue the first of these options. She says: “We should not just allow students to take us off-plan, we should encourage them to do so. The lesson is our lesson, not my lesson. And co-planning in this way ensures that effective learning takes place.”

Teachers should rejoice when a student asks a good question, she says. There are pressures, of course: exam content needs to be covered. But being responsive to students doesn’t mean being less responsive to the requirements of the syllabus.

Clare concludes: “Obviously, there are helpful and unhelpful tangents: we are the subject experts, and being responsive to students means us adjudicating their questions as much as encouraging them. A student’s question could be facetious, but the seemingly facetious question might have at its core something perceptive: something that gives you, as a teacher, valuable insight into where your students actually are, rather than where you thought they were. Real, deep learning is served by us going off-plan and responding to what they don’t understand.”

The full article is published on the TES website here (subscription may be needed).

Clare Jarmy is Bedales head of academic enrichment and Oxbridge, and head of Religious Studies and Philosophy. She is a regular contributor to the TES. See her articles here.