Planning Learning – A line in the sand


What do the following have in common?

  • The human and physical causes of flooding
  • The impact of free trade on Low Income Countries
  • How to draw a climate graph

Did you get it? Other than being pretty standard, and therefore awesome, pieces of a geographers education, they all take one hour to learn. Exactly one hour. Who’d have thought! In fact – it turns out that almost every lesson in secondary schools take exactly one hour to teach. I can only assume that a study was done back in the dawn of time that found that an hour was exactly enough time to teach one “unit of learning”. How lucky. We all like round numbers after all.

This is of course nonsense. The time it takes to teach someone how to draw a climate graph can take a few minutes or many hours. It all depends on the person: their age, ability, previous experience. The impact of free trade could be taught in a few minutes (It’s pretty bad!) to a life time of study (It’s still pretty bad but maybe not worse than the alternatives). And yet – there is still this tendency to chunk learning into hour long blocks. We are covering this objective today, we will cover another (possibly linked) objective next time I see you.

I was thinking about this after a poll run by the excellent teacher and blogger @Xris32.

Twitter - Line

My first thought was that it probably didn’t matter one way or another but then, the more I thought about it, the more I started to see this drawing a line under work as a symptom of the very problem I was discussing above. It suggests to the pupils that this work is done. Finished. They have literally drawn a line under it.

I often have the same conversation with students in lesson after lesson.

Them: What’s the title?

Me: We are continuing on from last lesson.

Them: So I should re-write the title from last time?

Me: No. You don’t need to write a title at all. You already have a title. You haven’t finished that title yet.

Them: OK. I’ll put “Part 2”.

We need pupils to see that learning transcends each individual session. That what they are doing is building up a body of connected knowledge and skills. Getting pupils to underline their work might make it look lovely and neat but it is undermining this attempt.

In my next session today pupils are:

  1. finishing off some work evaluating hard engineering strategies. They started this evaluation last session,
  2. looking at a soft engineering scheme on the fabulously named River Quaggy and learning what they did there,
  3. arguing whether this soft engineering was more appropriate in this context than the hard engineering.

In their final session of the year, on Friday, they will be looking at the Jubilee River and explaining why this approach was taken instead.

Where do they underline the work? After each session? After each distinct bit of the topic? At the end of the topic?

Underlining their work at the end of a lesson is probably no big issue but it is symptomatic of a bigger problem. The tyranny of  lesson plans needs to stop so we can usher in the age of the learning plan. I am drawing a line in the sand.

You can read @Xris32 response here



One thought on “Planning Learning – A line in the sand

  1. Pingback: Lesson planning and pedagogy | Driffield School and Sixth Form Teaching and Learning Blog

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