Activity based planning

In this example, a wide range of activities have been planned for a programme of work on the theme of food and farming.

Many of these will be lovely activities in their own right, for both teachers and learners, and there is a strongly cross curricular flavour to the plan.  Teachers who are familiar with old-style topic planning will recognise this way of doing things.  But if we think of it in terms of ‘head, hearts and hands’, there is very little here in the ‘head’ column … and very little clarity about what the children are meant to be learning over-all.

Concept based planning

In this example from a theme week in the Droitwich learning network, planning has begun around some of the big ideas that underpin the theme of food and farming.

This collection of ideas from the network schools aims to stimulate learner-led enquiry, discussion, investigation and ‘good learning’ which is rooted in learner needs and key dispositions and skills. It also emphasises responsibility for one’s own learning, which was perceived as being a particular issue in the schools involved.

For example, in planning the “field to plate” concept, children were invited to plan, research and organise a locally-sourced meal for people in their community, drawing on a wide variety of skills and understandings.  This touched on Geography, Design Technology, English and Maths, as well as Speaking and Listening and Social skills … embedded in a cohesive learning experience.

This model may well lead on to some of the activities in the earlier example, but only where they are useful to children’s understanding.   It allows for coherent cross-curricular planning, but where it is clear what different parts of the curriculum may add to this learning.  It strives to offer a balance between creative teaching, accountability and rigour.

Deep learning

This model draws on work by John-West Burnham, who suggests that we need to move on to deep learning, where children are intrinsically motivated to learn, and to questions about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.   It takes a constructivist explanation of learning, which involves the creation of knowledge.

Deep learning means being able to explain, exemplify, apply, justify, compare, contrast, contextualise and generalise.  For example, a shallow learner will be able to outline some of the big ideas about food and farming.  A deep learner will be able to explain them, evaluate their significance and justify the ideas they have arrived at.   This learner has moved from dependency to independence … where the teacher is no longer always the giver and the learner always the receiver.

In planning for active learning around big ideas and key concepts, the following prompts may help.  How can we organise this into sequences of learning?  However, we need to remind ourselves that there can be no proforma for personalised learning … it starts with the needs of the learner.

How do we harvest lightning?  There is a natural energy source in creative professionals, waiting to be tapped: teachers who came into teaching through the love of learning.  Most importantly, we need to capture the power of creativity, awe and wonder present in all of our learners …  a power that, if we are not careful, we can damp out.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves, how can we be the change we want to see in the world … and embody the qualities we want in our learners?