An exploration of the benefits and pitfalls of planning, from KS2 and Curriculum Lead, Kate Sturdy.

Many of my most memorable lessons that have had the biggest impact on my learners have not been planned. I tend to ‘go rogue’ with learners’ ideas there and then, planning on the spot, being led by their questions and ideas (which are way better than my ideas or my colleagues’). Yes, it might be scary not having full control but taking a leap of faith can lead to improvements in planning, teaching and learning.

Why plan?

  • To ensure legal requirements for the curriculum are complied with.
  • To ensure consistency.
  • To facilitate the learning.
  • To provide enriched learning experiences.
  • To provide opportunities for learners to be involved in planning (listening to them to find out what they would like to know more about).
  • To include and celebrate the diversity, needs, strengths and talents of all learners.
  • To have lessons tailored and personalised to your learners.
  • To ensure learners are aware of the health and wellbeing of themselves and others.
  • To support every learner to make progress.

Back in the day, long-term planning accompanied extremely detailed medium-term planning. Folders could be pulled out with resources, lesson by lesson. I would know exactly what was to be taught each day, of each week, of each month, of each term, of each academic year – boring hey! I would dare say, teaching back then was pretty easy (I cringe as I type). From that ridiculously detailed medium-term planning, we would complete a weekly timetable: “Romans pg. 25” or “Maths Division Week 5”. This was our short-term planning.

Looking back, the pros were that it was all done for you. It was a security blanket preventing us from “failing” to regurgitate the knowledge that was once in our outdated National Curriculum. The ultimate goal was for learners to gain knowledge and retain it – something still tested for at the end of Key Stages for many across the UK. Planning held the teacher’s hand, guiding what to teach. Learners would learn facts, present their work in a specific way and time scale, with most work ending up looking pretty much the same.

Now, I question this supposedly excellent planning of my past.

  • Where was the creativity for the practitioner and, more importantly, the learner?
  • Were the topics and lessons centred around what the learners had an interest in and were they relevant to them, year on year?
  • Could learners decide how best to present their work?
  • Why did we teach individual topics instead of using a multidisciplinary approach?
  • Did the topics represent the history and diversity of communities, in particular, the stories of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people within our societies, locally and further afield?
  • Was there opportunity to adapt from teacher observations or learners’ needs?
  • Was there enough flexibility to deviate away from the detailed plans?
  • If something came up in current affairs, e.g., a major flood, war or the death of the Queen, would I have been able to plan and teach lessons away from the folders?
  • Would I have been allowed to carry on with maths all morning if I felt this was best for my learners that day
  • Were we too focused on teaching facts and not focused enough on the skills to find answers independently
  • Was this type of teaching equipping learners with the skills to be lifelong learners in the twenty-first century?

Planning for the future

In a short period, the world has changed dramatically and continues to do so: the development of digital technology, communication, social media, climate change, world of work, the greater need to discuss mental health and wellbeing, and celebrate diversity and inclusion (especially following COVID 19).

On reflection, extremely detailed planning, teaching and learning greatly restricted me and every learner. It was all content-driven – much of which is outdated and irrelevant to today’s learners. The timetable was rigid and there was immense pressure to plough through the curriculum regardless of whether learners understood or wanted to learn more. It wasn’t centred around each individual’s needs.

We know learners are unique and there is diversity across a class, year group, school, consortia and country, yet the planning of my past (which may be how many still plan and teach today) does not cater for this.

Who is the planning really for?

Nowadays, I firmly believe that planning is as much for the learners as for the teacher. It should allow for everyone’s creativity. It is a working document for the teacher, ensuring appropriate support and progression for all learners at their own pace. It is the driving force for excellence and equity for all.

We, as practitioners, are facilitators of learning. Through careful planning that listens to all learners, includes assessment for learning, self and peer assessment as well as teacher observations, we provide enriched learning experiences that:

  • encourage learners to question for themselves
  • develop the skills to find answers and choose how to present them independently
  • develop communication skills
  • develop creativity
  • develop leadership skills
  • ensure equity for all
  • cover current, real-life issues
  • develop a lifelong love for learning.

Planning is now a partnership and by taking on board learners’ self-assessments as well as teacher observations, we can plan appropriate provisions to enable all to succeed.

Cymru am byth

For Welsh practitioners (like me), planning or making any key decisions that will impact teaching and learning must consider the ‘Four Purposes’.

The aim of any school’s curriculum in Wales is to support learners to become:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

Additionally, learning about Welsh history and the history and diversity of communities, in particular the stories of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, are now mandatory parts of the curriculum.

Teachers now have more flexibility with planning. Yes, there is a new national framework to ensure consistency and core learning, but teachers are empowered to use their professional skills and understanding to decide what and how they teach to get the best out of their learners.

By engaging and listening to all stakeholders’ views about what knowledge, skills and experiences should be provided, as well as considering the locality of the school, curriculum planning is uniquely tailored to all learners’ needs in each educational setting.

The right tools

At the heart of all planning, regardless of key stage/ phase, the main vision is equity and excellence – through universal access to experiences, knowledge and skills for employment, lifelong learning, and active citizenship in the twenty-first century.

Making a plan without the right tools is like making a home without love. Planning in education needs love. When planning is personalised to each learner, progression, excellence and equity for all becomes the heartbeat.

Planning should be creative, maintaining every teacher’s love and passion for teaching. Planning around learners’ interests and talents will ignite curiosity, inspire and foster a love for learning – now and for life. By planning opportunities and experiences for them to develop transferable skills, they will develop love and respect for themselves, others and the world around them.

Author

  • Kate Sturdy

    Kate is Year 5 and 6 departmental lead (six classes), the KS2 curriculum lead (12 classes) and a Year 6 teacher. She has given presentations to teachers for the Welsh Government, lectured at several universities and is currently working on personalised assessment with the Welsh Government. Kate also provides Adobe Creative Cloud training to educators globally.
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