Initial teacher training and the NQT year can be an overwhelming experience. Planning lessons, gathering evidence, observing colleagues and attending training can all build up and often seem like too much. Having taken on the role of ITT/ECT Lead at my school, I wanted to share a few pointers which I hope will help those in the earlier phases of their careers.
Being organised and planning your week seems obvious but it is easy to let this slide. Take some time on a Thursday or Friday to ensure you know what is coming up next week. This isn’t just ‘Monday, Lesson 2 – Year 8’ but instead you should make a few notes about what you are teaching and other things you need to remember for each lesson. I jot down what I will cover in each lesson including key questions, knowledge to be retrieved, resources that need printing and whether or not homework or reminders need to be shared. This process ‘frees-up’ head space and these notes can be extremely valuable in the hours or minutes prior to each lesson.
Taking this further, all meetings, training and observations should be diarised so you can begin to see what your week will look like and where the pinch points are. It is also important to set aside time for reading. Whether you are improving your knowledge of pedagogy or your subject, this is an area all too often sacrificed as lesson planning can feel like it is dominating your every waking minute.
Planning a scheme
The most time-consuming, and often anxiety-inducing, task for an inexperienced teacher is lesson planning. The key here is to think big. Do not think about each lesson in isolation but instead, consider what needs to be covered over the next 4, 6 or even 10 lessons. What are the key concepts, knowldedge, and vocabulary you are going to teach? Ultimately, what do you want the students to know and be able to do as a result of your lessons?
This process should never start with a blank PowerPoint presentation but this is where many teachers go wrong. A PowerPoint is a resource – a tool used to support the delivery of a lesson. To begin designing a PowerPoint, if this is your preferred style, you must first know what you are going to teach. Below, I have outlined an example for a unit on plate tectonics in my subject, geography. Before I even think about lesson resources including the PowerPoint, I put pen to paper and think about these key areas:
- Core content: What subject-specific knowledge needs to be learnt? E.g. structure of earth, plate margins, landforms
- Vocabulary: Which words are new? Which words are important? E.g. asthenosphere, constructive margin, subduction
- Key concepts: What concepts underpin this unit? E.g. scale – time and size, interconnections
- Disciplinary knowledge: How do we know this? Who found out? E.g. pioneers of plate tectonic theory (Tharpe, Mohorovičić)
- Procedural knowledge: How do we do this? E.g. Map skills, interpreting diagrams/data
- Examples/case studies: Where is this happening? E.g. Himalayas, Mid-Atlantic Ridge
This gives me a framework to work from and I can begin to explore each area in more detail if required. Over time, my notes will evolve, become more detailed and I will formulate a sequence. I will also start to collate useful resources such as websites or books which will help me to deliver the content. Once I am happy with the sequence in which this content will be covered – similar to a contents page – I will then begin to create my resources including a PowerPoint, maybe!
Planning a lesson
I have a pretty simple outline for my lessons. Although I don’t stick to it 100% of the time, I find most of my lessons follow this structure.
Firstly, lessons will begin with retrieval practice. Quizzes are now commonplace at the start of lessons and I will often start a lesson with questions reviewing prior learning. But I think it is important to note that retrieval does not always need to be like this. For example, if an article is being used which calls upon prior learning, then signposting and discussing this is also a way of ensuring students recall content from last week, month or year. However this is done, giving students the opportunity to refresh past knowledge is a sound way to start a lesson.
Next, I will introduce the new content and I call this input. This is when I talk to the students using images, passages of text, graphs/maps, and short clips to aid my delivery. Although PowerPoint is a useful tool for sharing this content with students, it is worth remembering that this is not the only way to do this and sometimes the screen can be a distraction, especially when the slide displays reams of text.
Input is supported by checking for understanding (CFU). This often involves lots of questioning and gives me an opportunity to find out what the students are thinking about. I need to know if they understand what I have said before we can go any further. “Tell me what you now know about…” is effective and avoids single-word responses whilst identifying misconceptions. CFU becomes more meaningful when a large number of students are asked using a no-hands-up approach.
At this stage, if I’m not happy with the responses, I will pause and return to the input to re-explain the key ideas. If however, students are responding as I intend, I can then move into the practice phase of the lesson. This is where students complete a task or activity which gives them a chance to apply their knowledge and demonstrate new understanding.
Sometimes it is necessary to provide scaffolding at this stage. For example, verbal cues, writing frames or exemplars can give students the support required to complete a task successfully. Similarly, modelling is an effective technique for demonstrating what success looks like. A model answer can be analysed before the task or this can be used after an activity so students can reflect on their work.
Finally, I will give feedback within the lesson wherever possible. This isn’t simply a case of sharing the answers at the end of the lesson but is a constant process in which I seek to find out what the students are thinking about and help them to develop their knowledge and understanding further.
By planning my lessons in this way, it ensures I focus on the geographical content and whether or not students are learning. It is all too easy to get carried away with planning elaborate activities or creating time-consuming resources but the danger here is the purpose of the lesson can be lost. Thinking about lessons as I have outlined in this post will help you focus your attention in the right places and, hopefully, ensure you maximise your time.
If you’re in the early stages of your teaching career, always remember, it’s a hugely rewarding job and you’re having a huge impact on young people. Keep up the great work!