We are all quite glad when it rolls around again: that morning or afternoon where we really get the chance to take a break from the classroom in order to think about what we are going to teach next. For some of us its a time to work alone, uninterrupted, for others its a chance to work collaboratively, bouncing ideas around in order to develop the best teaching ideas for the following week.
However, although we think of it as a breather, it can actually be quite a demanding process.
Recently our SLT sat down to think through what exactly goes on during PPA time. Whilst it is supposed to be time for planning, preparation and assessment, that simple title and its even simpler acronym is a cover-all term for a whole host of potentially mind-bending thought processes which all culminate in a plan for the next sequences of learning.
What follows is a huge list of questions which represent some, most definitely not all, of those aforementioned thought processes. The following list isn't necessarily a list to work through during a planning session, it is more to exemplify just how difficult it can be a) to get everything done in the time available, and b) to actually do the necessary thinking which leads to excellent teaching and learning outcomes.
I've tried to split the list under headings however inevitably some of the questions naturally fall under more than one of the headings:
Are there any staffing changes in the coming week? Are there any events that disrupt the usual timetable? How will this affect what will be taught? What does the overview of next week look like logistically?
Planning the Planning
What subject should we plan first this week? What are our planning priorities this week? How much time should spend planning each subject? What are the links between the subjects in the coming week?
What did the children do last week? How well did they do with it? Are there any misconceptions? What are the objectives and steps that precede the objective you are planning to teach? Do any previous objectives need revisiting? What is the format of the revisit?
Have any children been absent or missed previous learning? What do we need to put in place to help them? Which children need to cover previous year groups’ objectives? How will this be managed? Is any pre-teaching necessary? Will same-day interventions be needed for this?
Identifying & Sequencing Objectives
What is the intended overall learning journey e.g. on a long term plan? What specific objectives need to be taught this week? How do those objectives need to be broken down into the smallest possible objective? How will the objectives be best sequenced?
What is the simplest way to teach each objective? What Do-Now activity is needed? Will it assess prior knowledge? Will it revisit an objective which is foundational to the new objective that is being taught? What models will I share? How will I model the work? How will I explain the concept? What instructions will I need to give? What should the structure of the lesson be? How much time is given over to practice time for children? What would need to change mid-lesson if children don’t understand the objective? What resources will be needed to teach this? What are the anticipated misconceptions? How will this work be scaffolded for those who need it? What will the Next Step For Depth objective be? What will each member of staff do during each part of the lesson?
Tasks & Activities
What tasks/activities will allow the children practise the skills? Will work be recorded? If so, how? How often will work be recorded? What will the feedback implications be for you? What will be included in the sequence that gives children exposure to test technique e.g. stamina, question presentation, comprehension, variety of objectives etc? Do tasks need to be made, or can they be sourced from existing resources? Which would be most time-efficient?
How will you know if children have succeeded? Mid-lesson? After the lesson? How will you provide feedback to children?
How might I be responsive to children’s needs during the lesson? What resources need to be made? Who will make each one? How will the classroom environment support the learning e.g. areas of provision?
I'm sure that, having read through the list, there are things that spring to your mind that are missing. What would you add to this list? Are there any things you would omit?
If you are a teacher heading into a PPA session this week, remind yourself that PPA is a time for deep thinking, and that when it seems difficult, there's a reason for the difficulty: there is just so much to think about. Start at the beginning of the list, thinking about how you are going to use the time in the session as well as the time during the week.
If you are a leader, think carefully about the time and support you might need to give your staff in order for their PPA time to be as productive as possible. Deficiencies at the planning (and preparation and assessment) stage of the teaching cycle will almost certainly lead to deficiencies in the classroom. That's not to say that you must mandate certain outcomes in PPA sessions - teachers will take different approaches - but that you need to be confident that the time you are affording to teachers is productive and useful, full of deep thinking.