Sharp Planning

… is important because freedom needs boundaries.  This paradox is central to the creativity process because it provides a focus for innovation (Idea Engineering, 2010).   Sharp planning is crucial to teaching for a social purpose, because it enables the educator to prepare themselves with confidence and gain mastery of their craft (Sennett, 2009).

A session plan is a roadmap for teaching.  Without it, students might visit some interesting places (teaching activities) but without a clear destination (learning outcomes) the session would lack purpose and ultimately students would not consistently be able to say what they had learned and why.  A good session plan also compels the educator to be mindful about what they are trying to achieve, each time they teach.

A practice principle of social purpose teaching is that the teacher has respect for each student as a thinker (Kline, 2009), without denying the inherent power imbalance of the teacher/student relationship (Learning for Democracy, 2008).  A cornerstone of this is that learning outcomes are explicitly shared and, where possible, negotiated.  Learning outcomes are essential.  They spell out your destination and provide a foundation for assessment and, after all, teaching without assessment just isn’t teaching.

This doesn’t mean you must follow ‘the plan’ rigidly.  A good plan can give you the confidence to think on your feet (or, as Schon (1983) puts it, to reflect-in-action), to be responsive to your learners and your environment, just like a good map gives you the confidence to take a detour and still reach your destination.  It’s been heartening to see that Ofsted have taken this approach to planning, recently.

If you get to the end of a session or course and feel relieved that you pulled it off, you may need to pay some attention to your planning!

There are two main planning tools, each equally important:  the scheme of work and the session plan.

The Scheme of Work

Think of the scheme of work as the bones of  your course.  It sets out your intent.  A stand-alone session plan is fine for a stand-alone session (though for best practice it will include some scheme of work elements).  As soon as more than one session combines into a course, a scheme of work is very useful.

The scheme of work is the course at a glance.  It is the place to begin.  It is also perfect for:

  • sharing with colleagues, to ensure that sessions don’t drift too far from the roadmap, without destroying the perfect opportunity for creativity and individualism that is provided by writing your own session plan
  • sharing with funders, to give an intriguing flavour of the course, without giving your secrets (your “knicker drawer” :-)) away
  • sharing with quality assurance observers, to illuminate the rationale behind the teaching they are observing

A scheme of work is the skeleton of the course.  It should be written at the beginning of the course, to provide the following information:

  • an overall aim for the course
  • the title of each session
  • an aim (general statement of intent) and SMART learning outcomes for each session[1]
  • a response to key policy/strategy priorities eg Every Child Matters
  • a differentiated assessment strategy

Each session can then be developed in its own time.  It is not necessarily good practice to write all the sessions at the beginning of the course, before you have met your students, as this may make it more difficult to both personalize the learning and stay true to the session plan.  If possible, write enough sessions to get ahead of yourself, and plan the rest as your students begin to emerge for you as individuals.

The Session Plan

Writing your own session plan is one of the joys of teaching.  Why would you not want to attain the level of creativity and mindfulness of your own practice, that this discipline brings?  Remember, freedom needs boundaries.  It’s true that many courses are pre-written, but that shouldn’t stop you pulling the session to bits and seeing how it works – for you.  That’s also the very best way to get to know a session inside-out.

A session plan takes the aims and learning outcomes defined by the scheme of work as its starting point. These are cut and pasted onto the session plan template and the creativity process can begin.

Preparing a session plan can help you think more deeply about:

  • the social purpose aim of your teaching (aspiration)
  • your own strengths and areas for development; anything new you are going to try (tutor ILP)
  • how you will teach individual students in a group setting (differentiation)
  • what you are doing and what your student is doing at each stage of the session (timetable of activities)
  • how you will support your students to improve their  skills (embedding Maths/English/ICT/critical thinking/reflexion etc )
  • how you will know that each individual has learned what you meant them to learn (assessment)
  • how you will meet any special support needs, such as dyslexia, mobility or vision impairment (equality and inclusion)
  • ways to reflect wider culture and challenge stereotypes (embedding diversity)
  • a reflection box to record your immediate thoughts (reflexive practice)
  • ways to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own learning  (personalisation)

If you’re being observed, the observer may not understand that what they are looking at is deliberate, rather than hit upon by chance. Ofsted inspectors in particular are trained to assess how well you can explain your teaching decisions and a clever scheme of work/session plan may help do that job for you.

A good session plan is very personal and sharing it is an act of generosity.   It is the blueprint of the teacher’s craft.   Borrowing someone else’s session plan can be an inspiring place to start but you should always adapt it to meet your strengths and the needs of your students and the teaching context as a whole.

The Northern College have produced robust scheme of work and session plan templates to support mindful planning.

NC Scheme of Work 2013

NC Session Plan 2013

Idea Engineering (2010) Boundaries of Creative Freedom [On-line:  UK] retrieved 15 May 2011 from http://ideaengineeringagency.com/tag/creativity/ (blog)

Sennett, R (2009)  The Craftsman  London  Penguin (book)


[1] These prescribed by an awarding body (eg City and Guilds) if the course is accredited.  All prescribed outcomes need to be present, or else the student will not achieve their qualification.  However it is fine to add to them if there are additional learning outcomes you (and your students) want to meet.  You may wish to use different colours to indicate which are the additional outcomes.

4 thoughts on “Sharp Planning”

    1. That’s true – or at least it should be. Those Teflon plans that see teachers ploughing on regardless are what Ofsted are trying to stamp out. I think that a good scheme of work stays relevant right to the end, though.

  1. I agree. The scheme of work should be detailed enough the structure the learning over the course and the lesson plan is then flexible to deal with any issues.

    I am a bit worried about some of the templates I have seen which are covered in tick boxes to remind the teacher to include everything. I have yet to see one used effectively or filled in correctly!

    1. Me neither, that whole corporate approach completely stifles mindfulness and makes teachers fearful of putting anything of themselves into their sessions. When I’m observing someone’s teaching I want to understand their intent, their thought processes, that way I can see why they are doing what they are doing, without making assumptions based on what I would do – I’m not the expert there. The most disturbing thing is how really important stuff – like equality, like diversity – is so reduced to the tickybox that it becomes invisible. Thanks for the comment, Richard!

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