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Ed Baillie: Primary Trainee - Harris Primary Academy Beckenham

Cohort 2021-22

March 2022

Ed baillieWhat tips would you give in regards to lesson planning?

I assume that it is uncontroversial to assert the need for, and the value of, high-quality lesson resourcing. This may be as simple as a whiteboard for the teacher and adequate stationery for the students. Other lessons may require considerably more. Done well, planning is the teacher’s crystal ball, allowing the forward-thinking practitioner to effectively anticipate the recipe for success, whilst foreseeing the potholes that lay in wait, ready to derail one’s carefully curated subject content. So, what is good planning? 

What it is not 

Planning is integrally linked to the lesson’s subject content. These are however fundamentally distinct components of any successful lesson. We all know experts who struggle to impart their knowledge. Planning is what makes a teacher of an expert. Good teaching is rarely accidental. 

 

Start at the end 

Your knowledge of a subject will likely exceed the scope of your lesson as well as the interested attention of your students. “What should I teach” is the wrong question. “What do I need my students to learn” is infinitely preferable. “What are our objectives?” is your point of departure. 

 

Objectives of learning 

This outcome-orientated approach ensures the centrality of skills development over-and-above knowledge transmission; promoting consideration of lesson sequencing, the subject spiral more generally, and the wider curriculum. In turn, ensuring the production of coherent and relevant resources that will effectively support students in meaningful independent work. 

 

Aligned and accessible 

Each lesson should provide opportunities for the independent manipulation of the lesson content. These tasks need to be aligned to the learning objectives and appropriately supported by teacher input. Moreover, as each class is a unique intersection of abilities, lesson content and independent tasks need to be adapted and scaffolded to ensure whole-class accessibility. 

 

From “what!” to “so what?” 

Important as it is, all preparation will be for nought if your class are disengaged or misunderstand the learning. Whilst we cannot easily plan to mitigate radical disinterest, most students are naturally curious if challenged. The 80/20 rule is instructive here. Put simply, lessons belong to the students. Planning should reflect this. For every minute of teacher input there should be 4 minutes of class discussion, partner practice, and independent work. A variety of methods are best as they help to maintain pace, whilst enhancing accessibility. These contact-points also provide feedback, regarding understanding and misconceptions. The experienced practitioner may draw upon their toolkit in-the-moment. For a trainee, deliberate forethought is essential. 

 

Deliberate rehearsal 

Every lesson is time-bound and as such only successful if achievable in that time. 

How long will it take the class to settle? Do I need to take the register? Is additional stationery required? Is the seating plan adequate to the task? How much time is needed for teacher input? What time should be allocated to partner talk and class discussion? How much time is required for the independent task? Etc… 

There is no substitute for writing out the order-of-events and allocating precise time expectations. Mine are often to the minute and help to assess the appropriateness of the ambition. Better to realise over-reach during planning, than mid-lesson. Better to deliver a complete lesson, than to plan a comprehensive one. 

 

Review, revise, repeat 

The plan is complete, the lesson delivered. Time to move on. NO! Our experiences are a rich source of professional knowledge. Through reflection the teacher, if receptive, is taught by her students. What went well? What could have been better? Every second in teaching is a vital resource. None should be wasted. Jot down your most important take-aways… these will be the foundation of future successes. 

January 2022

“Magpies and the Crucible"

Teaching is learning, each linked to the other; dyadic, irresolvable, irreducible. Students remind me of this daily. I am not learning to teach. I am teaching to learn. Dependent as it is upon interest, learning and therefore teaching must seek out and cherish the sometimes-fleeting sparks of student interest that generate light within the room. 

Interest is interesting as it is the point at which teacher and student perspectives intersect. The teacher asking, ‘why am I teaching this?’, whilst the student queries, ‘Why should I learn it?’. It is insufficient to suppose that we teach x or y for SATs, still less because it will be of benefit to some far-off adult state not yet conceived. We are motivated by our present! Appeals to future-possible-selves are simply abstractions that obstruct our interest in learning. Quite rightly, each child demands to know ‘what is my interest in this now?’  

Information shared may be interesting, but it can only be considered of-interest once its value has become apparent to the learner. A student myself, I greedily collect ideas, magpie-like, from the Harris ITE course. However, it is only in the crucible of my classroom that I can truly assess and discriminate the interesting from the valuable, discarding the rest. Interest the bate, experience the hook through which I aim to land a little ‘knowledge’. 

Interest, however, like most things, is unevenly distributed. As with any class, there are some that are motivated by an interest in the mere act of learning. Others, the majority perhaps, apply themselves broadly, whilst actively looking forward to specific subjects of interest. Sadly, a minority, often hampered by a range of barriers-to-learning, remain disengaged and disinterested as their ability to participate falls increasingly out of phase with that of their peers. This last group, though ever present, is in fact a caricature that belies a basic truth; the truth that we all have interests, regardless of our limitations and performative disinterest.  

Teaching science for the first time this term, certain pupils of the third kind came alive: their eyes wide and bright; their willingness to contribute and lead a revelation. Struck by the contrast and excited to review their work, I was delighted to see evidence of articulate engagement, their concealed interest shining through. Having serendipitously hit upon the wheelhouse of their learning potential, the next days revealed a degree of peripheral charge previously absent, a residual interest. 

With interest came engagement, with engagement came praise, with praise came pride. With pride these students were able to sit a little taller, feel part of the classroom community, and take risks, contributing beyond the area of their emergent expertise.  

Of course, one good lesson is not the solution. Such a conclusion would be optimistic if not ridiculous. It is however the ground upon which to build upon their capacity for engaged learning. More immediately I am reminded to seek out and to celebrate the interests of each student daily. It is interest that ultimately enlivens the experience of education for teacher and student alike, revealing value, and motivating each to reach beyond themselves. 

Indisputably, we are all magpies, attracted by the glimmer and shimmer of the world beyond our nest… that said, not everything shines with equal brilliance for you and I. We are different precisely because we are interested differently. 

October 2021

“Why did you start your teacher training journey?”

Sitting beneath the branches of a twisted tree, atop a south London hill, I took a moment to reflect on the spires of glass and steel before me. Irregular yet regulated, the city had been my working home for more than a decade. On this occasion its distance was palpable. 

Lockdown had been a revelation. 

I confess, it was manic trying to hold down a job from a small bedroom, working through an even smaller screen, whilst attempting to home school two primary age children. My wife and I did what we could to cover all bases: daily reading, some maths, art of course, park-time, and a little more TV than we might have preferred. We both wanted to do more, but reality sadly had other ideas.  

Regardless of these imperfections, the opportunity to place ourselves at the centre of our children’s education was an undeniable privilege. I went about the task with a sense of austere obligation at first. Responsible first to my children and secondly to our State, overloaded as it was with the challenges of the day. This was to be my contribution to the wider societal effort to manage the pandemic. It was a small contribution, I admit, vanishingly small in comparison to those bound by their duty to work with the sick, to support the vulnerable, to keep the city moving, the schools open and the shelves stocked. Nevertheless, it was mine to give, and it was given freely! 

I have no doubt that this time has changed many people’s lives. Listening to the news, hearing the unfolding of personal tragedy and public drama alike, my thoughts returned again and again to the questions of purpose and service. Historically I have worked to provide, spending much of my days without meaning or vocation; my time deferred on the promise of some future reward. However, having witnessed the mobilisation of society in response to the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid, I could not ignore the fact that my contribution had been, in my estimations at least, insubstantial. My contribution was at best one of absence. I was helping only by staying out of the way. 

As my children returned to their school and I was excused the distraction, I should have been grateful for the reprieve. I wasn’t! Something had changed. 

Sitting under that tree, no doubt encouraged by its steady persistence, I penned a simple list: I noted those things that I like and those that I do not; the things that engender meaning and those that take it away; my reasons for getting up each morning, contrary to the common causes of lethargy that incline a tired mind toward the snooze button. We all make decisions in our day to day, I thought. I have made many. Choices, real choices, choices that herald change are however far less common. With list in hand, I resolved that a change was to be my only choice that day.  

Looking up from the page, a small troop of primary school children filed over the brow of the hill and took up their places on the grass not far from me. I watched for a moment or two. There was a buzz of excitement as they each explored, pencil and paper in-hand, the skyline before them. I became fascinated by the deliberate effort required to conceive of a scene that for so long I had regarded with little more than an idle simplicity. It was in that moment that I resolved to become a teacher, working with others to trace the outline of the horizons laid out before them.