Why I love…Planning reading schemes of learning

I started writing this blog ages ago, as I was thinking about the process of planning schemes of work for new texts and how that has changed, developed and evolved for me as I’ve become: more experienced; read more blogs, research and teaching and learning books;  modelled more in my classroom; evolved as a teacher; had the support and guidance of colleagues in school; had the support and guidance of colleagues on Twitter (particularly the wonderful @team_english1 and @engchatuk specifically for English teaching and @ukedchat for more general pedagogical discussions); reflected on my own teaching and learning; trialled new ideas; learnt from mistakes.

The tweet here brought to mind that I never finished my thoughts on this:

I’ve planned schemes of work or units in different ways at different times, depending on what I want the students to learn and my thinking about how much I plan in advance has changed over time, as well as how I plan. At the start as a new teacher, I made the mistake of planning as an individual unit of learning as opposed to thinking about the bigger picture. Now, regardless of how I sequence the specifics in the SOL unit I think about a bigger picture perspective at the whole curriculum level, before drilling down into the unit I’m planning.

 Bigger picture considerations for a new unit: 

  • The end goal of the unit
  • What I want them to know, learn and understand from the scheme
  • The bigger picture in the learning journey of the student and how the unit fits with this: where they are now, where they are going, how they will get there, how the learning in the unit will facilitate this
  • How the learning in the unit will fit into the future needs of the student (GCSE/A-Level/Further academic study)
  • How the learning in the unit fits into the current curriculum in place
  • How the new unit of learning will impact this curriculum (also, whether other units will need to be adapted as a result of the new unit)

Planning a unit: 

When I’m thinking about planning a new scheme or unit of work for reading, I’ll start with the text in mind. I’ll read the text and then work from there. My first reading will be a ‘dry’ read of the book to get to know it and to familiarise myself with the text. Then, I’ll use a knowledge organiser template to start noting down ideas as they come to me and that will be an ongoing work in progress throughout the unit, I’ll have the KO template open every time I’m working on the unit to reflect on, refer back to and to adapt as my thinking evolves. In my notebook, I normally scribble initial thoughts down in a very messy format to begin thinking about what I want to cover from the text. Then, I’ll decide what the end goal of the unit is and what skills I want the students to be completely secure with. Units may differ as they are important for ensuring students are secure with: extract analysis; embedding context effectively; extract to whole text understanding; whole text essay skills only or a combination of these elements. Once I’ve decided on this end point, I’ll think about the other units that have preceded this unit and what knowledge and skills the students should have already to build on. I’ll also consider whether the end goal fits with a progression model in the curriculum or whether it is ‘more of the same’, if I think it is more of the same, I’ll adapt my end goal expectations in line with what the current curriculum offer looks like.

This is the initial planning stages done. At this point, there is no actual unit or scheme of learning in place, but a scribbled plan that I will return to, add to and refine.

Researching the unit: 

As I am working on the unit, I’ll read around the text using study guides or exploring online. I tend to do it this way, rather than front-loading the research element as I find it more useful, but equally in the past I have front-loaded my reading and research.

Creating a mid-term plan: 

Next, I’ll create a mid-term plan for the unit. The mid term plan for me, is normally a word document with a rough map of the lessons that will be taught or the sequence of lessons that will be taught in that week. Sometimes I’ll do a lesson by lesson plan or at other times it’ll be a week by week or a more fluid plan. I don’t use a set mid term plan structure, as not every unit is the same. If I had a rigid structure or directed way that I had to complete a mid term plan, I would still plan in the same way and then go back and populate the more rigid form in retrospect, rather than trying to plan in a prescribed way, as I like the freedom of choice. Also, the mid term plan that I start with, is never the same as the one that I end with as, like the KO work, it changes and adapts as I re-read the book and plan individual lessons or decide on a format for the lessons.

Context focus: 

Regardless of what reading unit it is I’m doing, I’ll try to embed context meaningfully within the body of work, rather than as individual lessons. I might create a lesson or two on context to specifically teach the context points, but this will be embedded within the unit where relevant and appropriate and will always be focused on using the context meaningfully to support the students understanding of the text. In the past, I always front-loaded context and then never understood why students didn’t use it: they forgot it or didn’t understand how it was relevant to what they were learning in the novel and that meant teaching it in that way was moot. Obviously, I could have alleviated that with retrieval practice around the context, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who has recognised that they used to teach in a linear fashion and expected the students to remember everything that had gone before. As well as teaching a single lesson of context embedded in the unit, I’ll plan for opportunities to link to context during the teaching of the unit and embed this in the teacher talk, linking context elements as we discuss the learning.

Plot understanding: 

There are different ways that I might plan to do this:

  • Going through the plot with the students and sequencing it before reading so that students have an understanding of the plot before reading (I tend to do this with Shakespeare)
  • Read as a class (in different ways) and then use comprehension questions as we go through the novel to focus on the meaning, then go back and do further work on the plot, events, themes and characters
  • Read the novel chapter by chapter and work on plot, events, themes and characters as we go through each chapter
  • Using Cornell note-taking as we read to get an understanding of the
  • Fast Read/Cold Read (this is a new trial for 2019-2020) so I’ll see how this works and decide whether it is beneficial in my context

Creating individual lessons: 

Based on the end goal of the unit, I will embed those skills in lessons, as the unit progresses. I’ll focus on key characters, minor characters, key events and themes in the book and try to help students understand the wider picture as well as the close analysis, so that they can go from a whole text knowledge into a close knowledge and then back again. I don’t tend to use PowerPoints in my lessons for every lesson, but have planned individual lessons on them for the department to use when putting together new units. Obviously, they will adapt to suit their needs or style of teaching. I’m a fan of a one slide PowerPoint with different elements of the lesson coming in as you need it and then using the visualiser, pen and whiteboard with teacher questioning and knowledge to do the rest.

Often my day to day planning is reminiscent of @Positivteacha’s approach here, where Matt discusses the reality of having a text and knowing where you are going with it and just teaching it from the text: https://allearssite.wordpress.com/2019/01/09/messy-planning-part-one/amp/?__twitter_impression=true I read this blog about day to day planning and nodded along.

In previous blogs I have shared planning for schemes of learning that show different ways that I have sequenced reading units.

Blogs with SOL that link to reading:

Why I love…Writing a SOL for Purple Hibiscus

Why I love…Planning & teaching a new to me text: Animal Farm

Why I love…Planning for a new text: The Sign of Four by Conan Doyle

Ultimately, planning is a messy business, gets adapted constantly as I teach and planning will be interpreted differently by different teachers. As well as this, until I’ve actually taught a unit the first time through I can have an idea of misconceptions that might come up, but the students will throw up more and this can change the direction of lessons “best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” comes to mind here). However, having a clear outline of where the text is going, how the text fits into the bigger picture and knowing what you want the students to learn is never going to be a bad thing. Hopefully, this is a useful look at some of the ways I try to plan schemes of learning or units of work for reading units.



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