This is Part 1 in three quick posts for trainee teachers, about keeping the main thing the main thing, in the midst of all the complexity of learning to teach.
You’re going to get masses of, occasionally conflicting, advice on each of these themes, so I’m not going to say much – just a few observations from seeing a lot of trainee teachers at work.
This one is about Planning.
The two things I see all the time that lead to disaster are (a) a vague destination and (b) steps that are not small enough.
Experienced teachers know what they are aiming for without all that much thought. That’s a problem because it’s hard for them to see how much knowledge they have, and how difficult new teachers find this process. Inexperienced teachers write down something like “Be able to describe how plants get their food by photosynthesis” or “Be able to add fractions” and then proceed to carefully plan a lesson without any analysis of what that actually means. For each thing you are trying to teach, you need to know what it will look like when the children have got there, and all the little steps along the way. To start with you probably need to produce an exemplar of what you want them to do and think very carefully about what you are doing as you produce it. Now you know exactly what your destination looks like, and how to get there.
If teaching was as simple as telling, we’d all be so smart it would hurt. Your destination needs to be challenging. If novice learners can get there in one leap then it’s not challenging enough. So you can’t just tell them the whole lot in one go and expect it to work. They just don’t have the capacity for that. It doesn’t matter that it seems easy to you. You need small steps. Tiny ones! … No – even smaller than that! If you make the steps too simple you can get away with it for quite a long time whilst you adjust. Get even one step too big, and all but the highest achieving children will come unstuck within seconds. Small steps! Short and sweet. Lots of checking before you move on. And then, step by step, brick by brick, build something good. Build the children up to match that exemplar of yours. Not a pale shadow of it; work that meets your highest expectations.