Principles of Lesson Design


In this chapter, we focus on essential aspects of lesson design which are common to many planning formats. We explore what it is that makes an effective lesson design, through seven principles. These are certainly not the only principles that might be discussed, but they are some of the important ones. Other key aspects such as planning for additional needs and planning for assessment are explored thoroughly in dedicated chapters elsewhere in this book. Although sometimes perceived as time-consuming and repetitive, lesson planning is a process whereby teachers identify the ‘essentials’ of a lesson, so that it becomes part of a natural process and influences thinking. In this chapter, we recognise designing a lesson as a professional craft, so that our pedagogical choices are rooted in learning.

Preparing detailed lesson plans supports our professional development and acts as a ‘comfort-blanket’, especially during observed lessons. All aspects of any lesson plan format should scaffold the thinking process which the teacher has followed in considering the lesson. By going through this process you are reminding yourself and reassuring any observer about the breadth of thinking when considering the needs of the curriculum and the class. Over time, there have been a number of recommended lesson structures, suggested by different initiatives. All have some merit in changing practice, but it is most important to understand the principles which underpin successful lesson design. Understanding these principles will support you in interpreting and working with any lesson design, allowing you to use the design to plan and teach as an autonomous professional.

Throughout our discussion of our seven principles we draw upon examples from a few lessons. In particular, we make reference to a mathematics lesson, for children aged 7—10 years. This lesson is based upon a ‘Magic Vs’ investigation (Nrich 2019). In the investigation, children are asked to place the numbers 1 to 5 in a ‘V’ formation so that both arms have the same total. You may wish to explore this activity, through the link given at the end of this chapter, before reading on.

This could be seen as an example of a ‘low threshold; high ceiling’ activity (Nrich 2011), in that the majority of children at this age could cope with the calculation skills needed (the threshold is low), but higher attaining children could still be challenged to work systematically, make conjectures and explain their thinking to a high level (the ceiling is high!).

Principle 1: Have clarity about objectives

The first questions to answer when planning a lesson are, ‘What do I want the children to learn?’ or ‘What skill do I want them to develop?’ If we start here, the planning process will be led by learning, rather than by an activity that happens to have taken our fancy.

According to Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2008), one of the characteristics of effective instruction is that it is guided by ‘concrete [...] objectives that identify what students should know and be able to do’ (p. 24). Most lesson plan formats have a section entitled ‘Learning Objective’. This could also be called learning intentions or learning aims. Here, the main aim of the lesson should be made clear. It is important to note that learning objectives have their origin in the curriculum being followed by the school, and so are part of a greater plan for learning over time. The learning objective should build on what the children have learned previously. David Ausubel (in Novak & Gowin 1984) tells us that ‘what students already know is the most important factor in what they can learn’. Allowing pupils to make connections to prior learning supports their understanding. It is also important to make sure that we create learning objectives which are context-free, specific and transferable; they are not descriptions of a task but of learning.

Then there is the question of how the teacher and the children will know that the learning objective has been achieved, in other words, the ‘success criteria’. The following example 4.1 illustrates the relationship between learning objective and success criteria in a lesson plan for the ‘Magic Vs’ investigation:

Example from practice 4.1: The relationship between the learning objective and success criteria

Success Criteria:

Have a way of finding all the possibilities (may be trial and improvement)

State a simple rule (What do you notice?)

Convince a friend that the rule will always work

Some children may ask a ‘What if...?’ question, make a further conjecture and test it out.

Learning objective: to discover and explain a rule.

In the example above, the success criteria would focus on aspects of mathematical thinking which the children need to develop, rather than other skills such as accurate addition of single digit numbers, which will be used in the lesson but which most of the children may already be expected to be quite fluent with. Equally, the success criteria should not be confused with a list of everything the children need to do, but should be key points that they need to remember, or that adults working with them should prompt them towards. Nor should they be so prescriptive as to take thinking and decision-making away from the children. Again, a knowledge of prior learning will help us to identify what these key points will be. For example, a class of children aged 9—10 years writing persuasively may already be familiar with the idea of using convincing facts and persuasive vocabulary, but less familiar with devices such as rhetorical questions, in which case the success criteria would focus on the latter.

Children’s input can enhance the use of success criteria in lessons, in that when checking for understanding, additional criteria can be added or wording changed. Reference can be made to these criteria during the lesson to support the learning (mini-plenaries). These can sometimes be considered as ‘steps to success’ and contribute to independent learning. It is important that each of these criteria is measurable, so the child and the teacher can assess, preferably during the lesson, whether the objective was met or not.

Having considered learning objectives and success criteria, we should have a clear answer to our first question, ‘What learning gains do we want to achieve?’ The next question is about how to achieve them.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >