How to take your classroom planning to the next level
Classroom planning can be such a chore and EVERYONE hates it, right? But what if you actually didn’t dislike planning, maybe just the format and the constraints that Classroom Planning can pose for each individual. I like planning!! Is this mad? If you break down what I like about planning, I think many will agree – we just hate being constrained in our planning (and probably an element of we don’t like being told what to do!)
Put classroom planning aside for a moment. Think about planning in your everyday life. Again, I like a plan. I like knowing what date and where I’m meeting my friends for coffee or brunch and sure who doesn’t love an auld gawk at the menu so the salivating can begin a few days in advance! I like knowing when Croke Park meetings are going to take place each month so I can be sure to have a supply of chocolate with my tea or plan my evening around them. I equally love when something impromptu comes along, but a plan is nice for the most part. I also think everyone’s relationship with plans and planning is different and it changes during the course of your life. In my late teens/ early twenties plans were of no use to me! Making plans at that age was nearly more of a hinderance than anything because I wanted to be free and not tied down to any one particular thing. Whether that be Thursday night drinks in “Mooney’s on the Quay” (Wexford pub/ late bar) or flake on the couch after school and do NOTHING! I couldn’t be dealing with plans in that instance.
Now, at 30, I love making plans – date and time – into my calendar on the phone. Life gets so busy I feel I have to. Otherwise, the catch-ups with friends will never happen if we don’t stick the date in the diary.
Bringing it back to the classroom, things don’t always go to plan! As teachers, we have to be able to go with the flow – anything can crop up on a given day in school. A colleague may be absent, library or laptop times need to be swapped, a child may be feeling unwell in the classroom, the halla is needed for something or other and you miss your PE slot – cue the groans from 30 children! – behaviours that need attention. The list goes on and on. This is part and course of the job. All of this aside, I have always liked planning my week or fortnight ahead in the classroom.
For a lot of us, most of our planning happens in the car on the way to school or on yard duty or an evening scroll on social media, but you’re planning nonetheless (this now has a label and is recognised as ‘Invisible Planning’).
So why do so many of us feel frustrated and/or seem to have such difficulty when it comes to ‘recording’ this planning or formatting planning? I feel there are a number of reasons really:
1) Dislike the constraints that a Planning Template can pose
2) Wanting to plan differently to the rest of your colleagues
3) Some of us don’t like being told what to do! (Happens the best of us!)
4) Planning can be difficult with a particular class group – behaviours, needs etc.
5) Unclear guidance
6) New to the school or class group
7) Low confidence – in using IT/ particular subject etc.
8) New system for planning in the school
9) Pressure to produce plans to an unrealistic high standard, whether this pressure is self-inflicted or coming from elsewhere
10) Planning for the sake of planning
I have felt all of the above at some stage or another in my 8 years teaching. If I’m being honest, I still feel a twinge of some of these from time to time. But overall, I feel I have come to a happy place with my Classroom Planning.
For me, Unclear Guidance, Pressure to produce plans to a ridiculously high standard and Planning for the sake of planning were the main things that drove me wrong when doing Classroom Planning. It took me until the last year or so to finally seek the clarity I was looking for. There are many circulars and guidance documents issued online each year and the guidance changes from year to year – how could you keep up. Being honest, I didn’t keep up – I wouldn’t normally read into circulars or guidance much! Oftentimes, I didn’t even know the first place to look! However, here is a summary of the answers that I was looking for, backed up with circulars/ guidance, which greatly helped me in my classroom planning journey.
Helpful circulars/guidance for Classroom Planning
- We should all be engaging with the Primary Language Curriculum since 2019 – this may come as a shock to some!
“It is important that teachers see the 2019 version as the version to work from.”
- In relation to the Primary Language Curriculum, I like to pick 2/3 Learning Outcomes as my focus/ new skill/ new learning each fortnight. Understand and realise that everything else is happening in the background and does not need to be recorded in your plans.
“Avoid addressing too many Learning Outcomes at the same time. There is no specified number of Learning Outcomes to be identified in your short-term preparation…. It may be more practical to record the focus of new learning in your own words. “
- There is no requirement to record everything single thing that happens in our classroom – that is totally unsustainable. We don’t need to justify everything that we are doing/ teaching (incidentally or otherwise) by recording it in our plans – it should be clearly visible by stepping into our classrooms.
“Avoid recording every Learning Outcome that may be developed incidentally, or over longer periods of time in your short-term documentation. Focus on recording the new learning for child(ren). ”
- Your planning is for YOU – not the cigire, not the sub, not the principal. Your planning should help and guide YOU.
“Recorded preparation is first and foremost for the teacher. It may be presented or recorded in a way which is most practical and useful for you.”
- Every teacher is going to have varying levels of detail in their plans – again your planning is for YOU. Don’t compare yourself or your planning to anyone else’s, if it works for you then keep going.
“Recorded preparation is the documentation you use to support your teaching. It should be personal and bespoke.”
- You don’t have to include everything that is in a Teacher’s Manual/ Lámhleabhar in your plans – it’s already there! Use that as an additional guide/ resource. Avoid adding content to your plan just for the sake of it. If it’s not practical for you – leave it out.
“Recorded preparation should identify:
A clear focus of new learning for children, with reference to the curriculum, for example using learning outcome(s) or content objective(s); The learning experiences chosen to support all children in progressing their learning; How the new learning will be demonstrated by all children and how it will be assessed and monitored. “
- We are also being encouraged to be flexible in our Long-term planning. Content that is recorded in a LTP doesn’t always have to be listed in every single STP – it is recorded in the first instance in the LTP.
“Be flexible with your long-term preparation. It may need to be amended as you learn more about the children …. You may consider including: the expected learning in broad terms….”
- ‘Learning Experiences’ is the new buzz phrase. But how should we record these in our plans? You can add a heading into your plan for Learning Experience and/ or Learning Experiences can be recorded under ‘skills and concepts’, ‘methodologies’ etc. – they are describing the Learning Experiences we provide in our classroom.
- Seek the answers you desire in relation to planning in your school, ask the questions, look for clarity on the processes – nothing will change unless you do something about it.
- And if no one is able to/ willing to give you those answers, reach out to someone that can help. (I would only be delighted to help! And if I don’t have the answer, I’ll do my best to get you one)
So, what does all this look like practically, on the ground when planning? For me, to maintain this happy medium relationship with planning, I use the Primary Planning Tool. This is just what works for me! This product is pre-populated with the full mainstream curriculum. It has pre-populated menus of methodologies, assessment, differentiation etc. After a day in school, to turn around and try put ‘words’ to how I’m differentiating by “level – using a variation of the level and complexity of the content to reflect the diversity of the pupils’ previous achievement” could honest to God take me hours!! 🥴 Or trying to source the correct lingo of the strand units and learning objectives could tip me over the edge. This tool puts the curriculum at your fingertips. It’s not like I don’t know what the curriculum is, but I absolutely cannot rattle it off word for word. Fair play to anyone who can! I have actually found I am much more familiar with the Curriculum because I have been using this product. It is also absolutely brilliant for multi-grade planning. It gives you the scope to group classes and plan for them together – a game changer when I had 2nd and 3rd class, with the 3rd class split and working on a 2-year curricular rotation cycle 🤪. For me, the Primary Planning Tool is a one-stop-shop for everything you need in relation to classroom planning. They even offer a free demo for you to watch! Get in touch with Primary Planning Tool today to find out more.
And she never had to spend hours formatting text boxes or chasing a bullet point around a word document again! 💃