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Planning the Teaching Program in the Primary School


"Planning is crucial to the success of any worthwhile enterprise and teaching is no exception. The time spent in planning will make teaching and learning more efficient, and the difference between good and poor teaching in many cases is determined by the degree to which a teacher is prepared, through planning, to carry out the instructional program. The teacher must, therefore, be willing to spend an appropriate amount of time in purposeful planning. The ultimate test of the effectiveness of this preparation is the quality of learning that takes place in the classroom. Effective planning is likely to ensure better deployment of teaching skills, the creation of a supportive and consistent learning environment and more productive learning outcomes for children. Thus, planning is an essential activity for all teachers.

  The situational analysis

The basis for any planning is mental preparation. Before any actual physical preparation for teaching can take place, it is necessary to consider the characteristics of the children to be taught. This includes an evaluation of such facts as past experiences of the children, their levels of attainment, groupings in the particular subject area and any other special features of the class. Hence, an evaluation procedure must be adopted which includes, not only an awareness of the ways that the classroom is organised for various subject areas and the different individual abilities of the children, but also the identification of the particular resources that are available for use in the classroom.

A situational analysis can help the teacher develop clear judgements about which planning ideas are realistic options and which are not. Some options, even if they are preferred, are not possible, given the constraints of the education system, the school, the group of learners, or the teacher-self. The curriculum belief system of the supervising teacher can be a further constraining factor on the planning decisions of visiting student teachers.

Thus, teachers may perceive that certain decisions have already been made by the syllabuses, curriculum documents and policies of the education system in which they work. These restrict their own planning decisions in matters such as:

  • the knowledge (concepts, skills, topics) to be taught
  • the sequence of topics
  • how long can be spent on each topic
  • how assessment and evaluation will take place
Moreover, teachers are likely to perceive that there are greater restrictions on their curriculum decision-making space when they are teaching subjects with a higher degree of prescription such as Mathematics than, for example, when they are planning in Language or Social Studies. In a similar way, there are constraints imposed at the school level because of co-ordination decisions that have already been made in matters such as the organization of classes and resources; the structure and organization of the school curriculum and timetable, including events like assemblies and sports carnivals; and assessment and evaluation policies and practices.

Learner considerations have already been referred to briefly above. This factor is frequently the most important of all and it is often also related to that of the teacher-self. Teacher planning decision will be limited by their expectations regarding the abilities, interests and capacities of the children; activities they enjoy and dislike; their likely behaviour in different situations; and teacher-pupil interpersonal relationships and teacher knowledge of the factors that affect these; teaching style i.e. didactic activity based etc.

Thus a teacher might know that if a particular class is asked to do something that is outside their normal daily routine, such as group work or drama, the children are likely to become very unsettled and disruptive. This knowledge about these learners will obviously affect planning decisions and the teacher may exclude such activities altogether or plan in ways that will minimize the difficulties and gradually assist the children to develop the skills necessary to cope with changes to normal routine.

Teachers also have a set of personal beliefs and perceptions about themselves as teachers and their teaching effectiveness which will influence decision options in their curriculum planning. Thus, in the above class which becomes disruptive when faced with non routine activities, if the teacher's personal image is one of not being a very good manager of difficult classes, the planning options are likely to be much more restricted than will be those of a teacher with a high degree of confidence in personal mastery of appropriate management strategies.

  Linear and interactive planning models

Thus the process of curriculum planning by teachers in primary schools is highly individual and extremely complex. Written plans are important but represent a very small part of the teacher thinking and decision-making that is involved in the planning process. There are two quite distinct schools of thought with regard to this process - those who advocate the "rational" approach and those who see planning as an "interactive " process. It is possible, of course, to combine features of the two approaches in different ways to produce one's own distinctive personal planning framework.

The rational approach is essentailly a linear model derived from an ends-means perspective. One begins with the establishment of educational objectives and these are used to guide further decisions about content, strategies and evaluation. The planning process can be more or less reduced to four sequential steps as follows:
  1. formulation of objectives;
  2. selection and organisation of content
  3. selection and organization of learning experiences
  4. selection of evaluation procedures
The proponents of the interactive approach suggest that planning should maintain an intitial focus on the learning activity that will be provided for the children. This learning activity can be conceived as some combination of resources, activities, and the concepts and knowledge embedded in these. This view suggests that objectives arise and exist only in the context of teaching and become visible only as children pursue particular learning experiences. By the end of the situational analysis teachers will be aware of the range of viable planning options available to them and they can then proceed to apply professional and personal practical knowledge to make decisions about:
  • selection of tasks (teaching strategies/learning activities, topics, resources)
  • organization and structuring of tasks
  • pacing of tasks
  • ways of assessing children's learning
In addition, teachers now have a much clearer idea of what they want the children to learn and do. Thus, the objectives emerge from the planning and teaching process rather than being specified beforehand.

  Self-reflection and descriptive data

Lovat and Smith (1990) draw attention to the importance of teachers engaging in self-reflection about their curriculum practice. Teacher planning is an extremely important element of this practice. They argue that a descriptive approach which details the ways teachers do plan, design and implement curriculum holds the most potential for self-reflection and teacher professional growth. Their summary of research findings on teacher curriculum planning include the following:
  • teachers do make plans to be implemented in the classroom
  • plans give teachers a sense of direction, confidence and security, and thus feelings of increased control
  • teacher planning is complex
  • beginning the planning process by specifying objectives might make teachers less aware and less sensitive to the needs of the learners
  • while written plans often consist only of an outline of topics or list of important points, it is teachers' mental plans or images that are most important
  • teachers appear to undertake their planning within an operational space of possibilities that they perceptually define
  • a teacher's beliefs and perceptions are very important influences on the planning process and on decisions that are made. Other important factors are information about the learners (abilities, interests, beliefs) and about the teaching context, such as materials and resources available.
  • the tasks in which the learners will engage appear to be the central focus of teachers' curriculum planning.
This approach is particularly appropriate for encouraging self-reflection and the improvement of teaching effectiveness (including planning) of visiting student teachers during practice teaching attachments to schools. One of the key elements in the clinical supervision model is for the supervising teacher to engage in careful observation of the student teacher's work in order to provide descriptive feedback about performance for collaborative analysis and critical reflection. When planning is dealt with in this way in pre-observation and post-teaching conferences, significant improvement in planning skills and a growing understanding of the variety of contextual factors that are likely to impinge upon one's planning decisions might be expected to be the resultant outcomes. "

[Source: Planning for Pre-Service Primary Teachers   Prof Experience Unit, Fac of Education, QUT, Qld, 1998 (pp2-5)]
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