To truly plan for children, stop ‘planning’...
Along with marking, planning is one of many things that teachers just do. It consumes much of the week and can even dominate the weekend. We like to think that planning gives us a clear idea of progression, of what content comes next, of building on previous experience. In Early Years especially it can be seen as giving a context for learning and this leads to Pinterest Provision and Topic Teaching from half term to half term.
Planning reassures us and yet conversely it ensnares us too... We can find ourselves planning loveliness and task, rather than engagement and skill and in doing so we can find ourselves in the Planning Maze, sat up at 10:30pm still trying to think of things to put in the water tray.
If only there was a way to break free of the type of planning that seems to rob us of time and becomes a preoccupation...
There are many types of planning but in Early Years two types seem to hold sway:
Topic based planning which involves trying to wedge as much of the EYFS into a half term as possible linked to a theme that the children have had little voice in. See Chinese New Year, People Who Help Us and Spring for full details. This type of planning is a comfort to us as adults because it gives us a sense of what we’re doing day in, day out. We seek out lovely continuous provision ideas and then build round the topic. We then wonder why the boys aren’t engaged or aren’t flocking to the writing resources... We focus attention on what the children should see in the environment rather than on the skills they should be developing within it. For me this type of planning equates to misspent time. We are concentrating our thinking on activity and 'dressing' an environment, thinking space that could be served on something far more effective in moving children forward. Topic based planning keeps us in the adult world rather than attempting to bridge into the child's world of what children bring to an environment.
Objective led planning focuses on the outcomes - what do we want the children to do to achieve a specific outcome. It moves away from topics and its misspent energy and looks at the end result such as a piece of writing or a mathematical concept. This halfway house is great as a first step away from topic based planning because it is beginning to shift attention away from what we think children should experience and more towards the children themselves. It lists the outcomes and tries to achieve these through continuous provision, interventions and direct teaching. For me, it limits what children are capable of in terms of their interpretations and the 'language' they bring to the setting. Objective led planning wants something from the children. The objective is not the child's but the adults'.
Next Step planning is, in my experience, the most effective type of planning. It doesn’t focus on overarching themes, it doesn’t focus on desired outcomes. Instead it drills down into the skills that each child needs to develop in order to move forward. It can be applied both to your continuous provision and your carpet times since your carpet time should be about introducing new skills for children that you feel they need to work on.
As soon as you start doing this two things happen: you truly start seeing children as individuals because you reflect on their next steps rather than putting the most of your energy into Pretty Provision and you immediately begin thinking directly about what the children actually need in order to progress. It joins your direct teaching to your continuous provision giving it a true sense of unity.
The best bit about this approach is that because you are considering skills, you spend less time considering activity. Instead of prescriptive provision you can move towards open-ended provision which is translatable either by the child or the adult. You simply list the skills in what you feel is an order of progression and then put children's names under where you feel they are. As each child moves forward you can then move their names into the next column. Not only does this bring your planning right back to the children themselves but it also naturally creates a table to track progress so your planning sheet is working doubly hard for you. This type of planning also then enables you to consider the reasons both for progress or for standing still which in turn - your mind is fully focused on skills not 'what to do'...
By allowing children the space and freedom to interpret resources, spaces and equipment Next Steps planning also gives you a clear picture of the journey ahead and how to enable this. I like to think of Next Steps planning as a map to an adventure but one that the child is creating with the adult as they move forward. For you on a personal level, the beauty of Next Steps planning is that it doesn't need excessive amounts of time. You don't need continuous provision cards because you can't plan for how children will interpret your space. Suddenly you'll find a bit more time for yourself. You'll find that the weekends begin to feel less work-y. Your family and friends will begin to recognise you again and all the time something magic starts to happen. Your children begin to make real progress. Your team if you have one begin to discuss children rather than activity or what-to-do. And possibly best of all, your SLT begin to see how play can be a hugely positive force because the one thing Next Steps planning relies on is play and wouldn't you know the one thing children are insanely good at is exactly that!
For this week, why not sketch out your own progression of skills that you feel represent the range of children in your setting? Think about their starting points and then the skills that the adult world wants from them. Take time to reflect on your provision - go back to the Pinterest Provision blog page and familiarise yourself with why provision needs to be open-ended. Start exploring how you might use the power of play to engage children in their growth and how it might be used to enable children rather than disengage them... I'll then share with you your own Next Step: the 3Ms, probably the most powerful trinity since ZZ Top...
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....