The transition to part time and lean lesson planning

When I left Heathfield for maternity leave, I really struggled. I felt lost not being in the classroom, I missed the staff and students massively and it definitely took me a little while to adapt to “motherhood”. By the time 10 months had passed, I was fully enjoying all the coffee and cake with my new-found mum friends, and the thought of returning to work became pretty daunting. I always knew I wanted to come back part time to start with, but as time ticked by I wondered if this was the correct decision. 

I had so many questions and concerns: How will it work? How will I juggle my time effectively? How can I still plan excellent lessons but leave in time for nursery pick up? 

I’ll be honest, it’s taken some adjustment but I think I’m getting the hang of it (a year on….)  I’ve written a blog before on effective time management and organisation techniques and moving to part time has meant that I’ve had to put even more of a focus onto this. I’ve had to plan extremely efficiently, plan ahead, and most importantly; know when to stop. 

I recently delivered a CPL session with Mark Enser on Lean Lesson Planning in which I highlighted the main elements I incorporate into planning my sequences of lessons:

  1. Try to plan a sequence of lessons rather than a one-off lesson which allows for flexibility in how much content gets covered and allows you to move activities around to suit the class.
  2. Have additional resources on hand for challenge,  or if a class moves on with a topic, faster than you have anticipated (and the sequences of lessons works well here as you can always move onto the next ‘lesson’ if this is appropriate.)
  3. Ensure each sequence has these elements to ensure maximum understanding (ideas from ‘Making Every Maths Lesson Count’ by Emma MCrea):
  • Isolating the skills – this is vital in maths. As Daisy Christodoulou says; “If we want pupils to develop a certain skill, we have to break the skill down into its component parts and help pupils acquire the underlying mental methods”. In addition, “Rather than presenting the skills in large complex chunks, which can lead to cognitive overload, we break them down into smaller components, crafted in a carefully chosen order, that accumulate to achieve greater success with a larger, well defined goal.” (Emma Mcrea). For example in my lesson on “Collecting Like Terms” I will spend a good chunk of the lesson getting students to understand what a ‘like term’ is before explaining how to go about collecting them to simplify an expression. Encouraging student discussion here and then moving onto a whole class discussion can be really powerful in defining a ‘like term’. Some lovely arguments have taken place when discussion this and it’s been excellent in developing students oracy as they’ve had to really explain their reasoning.
  • Show strategies – such as worked examples, modelling and also the idea of ‘concept / non concept’ and showing ‘non-examples’ for a greater depth of understanding.
  • Tell Strategies – ensuring not to talk too much (I know!), using silence as a tool and using the proper mathematical language at all times.
  • Bridging the gap from concrete to abstract – making sure students see multiple representations of concepts, ensuring the understanding of the concrete, pictorial and abstract. The use of dynamic representations using technology and even gesture. Analogy works well too, but is harder in maths that in other subjects I would imagine.
  • Strategies for depth of understanding – such as procedural variation (for which Craig Barton is my hero and ‘go to’), fluency synthesis, use of goal free problems (who knew so much could come from taking away the actual question and having students work out what they can from some information!) and other top tasks such as sorting activities, venn diagrams and evaluating statements.
  • Strategies for longevity – lots and lots of retrieval practice, dressed up in different ways, low stakes testing and spaced practice, interleaving and problem solving as well as regular use of diagnostic questions to test understanding and challenge misconceptions.

Whilst I still have those moments when I ask myself if my students are getting the best out of me when I can’t spend the hours planning that I once could, my lovely head of department took some time to reassure me (after my first lesson observation) that it was me in front of the students that is what’s important. My experience, my enthusiasm and my secure subject knowledge enables me to teach pretty much any topic on the spot, and my adapted method of efficient lesson planning secures my confidence that the students in my classroom are getting everything they need.

Harriet Fielding, Maths

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