Planbook as a lesson planning tool


Last year I got pretty interested in the application of what Vic Zbar called ‘highly effective micro-teaching strategies’, particularly in the area of feedback and formative assessment and particularly related to the Hattie research and applications emerging from all that. Things like: ‘wait time’, ‘no hands up’, the icy pole stick questioning and the ‘pounce and bounce’ strategies, some of which I blogged about last year, and most of which are firmly analog. It’s hard to imagine something more low-tech than an icy-pole stick, even one decorated lovingly with texta and fineliner pen.

I enjoyed that thinking and aim to continue lots of those approaches this year.

One new thing I’ve want to explore is some of the work around ‘explicit teaching’ and particularly the lesson stages approaches that move from things like a ‘hook’ or intention to instruction, guided practice, group work and individual practice, concluded by revision, review and next steps. These are largely American ideas, but have been interested in how they’ve developed from there. Every lesson must have impact, every lesson should have a coherent learner-centric structure.

Sort of makes sense, but it also seems daunting to do that for every class every time.

So, I was interested to see whether there are lesson planning apps that might help, and came across Planbook. Planbook has been a Mac app for a while and I know nothing about that except that it’s about $36 and I’m not sure how well it syncs with the iPad version, which I bought for $9.99. Don’t be confused; there’s several Planbooks out there. I’m talking about the one from Hellmansoft.

What I like about Planbook is its ability to cope with a variety of timetables including our ten day rotation but the ability to customise the fields are the big winners for me.

The fields I included were based on Hattie’s extensions to work around the explicit teaching model.  There’s six customisable fields, so here’s what I chose for each field:

1. Topic/Content/Part of course

– What’s this topic
– Standards
– Stage in the learning

2. Beginning of lesson

– Learning Intention
– Activate
– Review
– The HOOK

3. Presentation

– Teach the concept
– Teach the skill
– Check for understanding

4. Guided Practice

– Development and engagement
– Feedback and individual support

5. Independent Practice

– Applying the concept or skill

6. Review

– Clarify, conclude
– What should be done between lessons

Below, you can see the editing view of Planbook on the iPad. It’s not the prettiest setup in the world, and it would be easier on the Mac I’m sure, but it works well, syncs with Dropbox and is pretty user friendly. On the left hand side you can see the fields I’ve set up for each component of the lesson.

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Below, you can see the weekly view. I’ve got three lessons this week (in green) and you can see the subject name, times and the lesson plan there.

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Below, you can see the single lesson view (not in edit mode) I’ve been using this as my lesson planner, having the iPad on my desk as the planner, and the computer plugged into the data projector showing the students the lesson content or activities.

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It is a bit daunting to plan every lesson in this detail, and to be honest some of the year 12 lessons don’t go exactly this way. But, it has really sharpened my planning and I’m going to persist with this and give it a decent trial. I was considering using Evernote as the lesson planning tool (setting up a blank note with the six fields and simply copying that to a new lesson), but this more purpose-built app has some advantages over that approach, particularly its integration with your timetable schedule. If it really did sync well with the Mac version, it would be even more powerful.

Watch a screencast of the basics of Planbook below; it’s the Mac version, but the basics are the same.

Getting ready for the teaching year




As the summer holidays draw to their inevitable end (the last swim, the last barbeque) a teacher’s thoughts (should) return to how this year is going to work and the kind of technology approaches you’re going to take this year. I’ve had a great break (note the pictures at the top of this post) but it’s time to think ahead.

So, I thought I’d share my thinking about how to approach the year with my Literature students this year. I should say, at the outset, that my thinking here is predicated on the knowledge that all the students will have a notebook computer in every class and that the infrastructure (wireless connectivity, computer repair facilities etc) just work. Now read on.

So, what are the technology essentials and frameworks that you might consider in that context?

First, I believe that every course should have an ‘online presence’. For me, that most often means a web page (usually a blog structure) that contains all the essential course information and news. I’ve used our own internal blog engine to create a central ‘Lit News’ site where all the class news, due dates, even homework, is posted. I usually include links to other sites, embed relevant Youtube videos and post pictures of critical class activities (like ‘Cake Day’!) This page is updated by me at least once a week, is available to all students, is on my email signature to them, and is the ‘go to’ place for information about SACS (school assessed coursework) and exams.

I also usually have a separate ‘reference’ site, a web page of the course details, and the assessment as a reference. This is really important if there is more than one class and one teacher (as is the case next year). It’s really important for all classes to have access to the same material, and the same information. This could be part of the blog I suppose, but in the past I’ve set up a wiki for this information, as it’s not ‘news-y’ like the blog.

I’ve often set up a separate wiki for each of the set texts. These wikis are usually read-write, with each student having full access (other than admin rights). These become collaborative spaces for students to co-create in. Teaching ‘Hamlet’, for example, I assigned groups to explore key scenes and key characters and got them to share their findings on the appropriate page in the wiki. The other teacher did the same and the cross-fertilisation, sense of authentic audience and purpose, and shared understanding, was impressive. It’s worth saying at this point that, in any team-teaching environment you’ve got to get a shared intention between the teachers. My problem is that I tend to jump ahead too much; I’ve learned to involve the other teachers more in the decision making around the course delivery and every time I do that I’m thankful for the great people I work with.

An important decision: how am I going to ask the students to take their class notes? For the last few years my choice for them has been OneNote and, when you take some time to explain the structure of the tool, students generally really like the way it helps organise notes and is able to accommodate almost any format with the ‘print to OneNote’ functionality. I use OneNote, projected on a screen via the data projector, as my class notes tool too, rather than the whiteboard. I then have a record of all the notes for every lesson, and can email the notes around to students too if someone’s been away. This year I’m also considering Evernote as the note-taking tool. Since Evernote’s got it’s ‘notebooks’ it’s become a real possibility for note-taking. I’ll probably stick to OneNote because it’s so tightly integrated with the Microsoft tools that the students all have but it’s a close call. And, both are a long way from the bazillions of Word docs that characterised student note-taking when the computers first got into the classroom.

I’ll probably use Class Dojo again this year, even though it’s got some bad press from US educators who question its reward and punishment premise. (badges and all that) I probably wouldn’t use it with junior students who might take it too seriously. I use it ironically, as a fun way to focus the class and for the great conversation we might have about what positive and negative learning behaviours should we look for? I’ll use some audio again this year; not quite ‘podcasts’ but short audio lecturettes on key poems or key ideas. Some students have told me they got a lot out of those, and came back to them again and again. I’ll also keep using Adobe Connect for online collaboration and revision, in and out of hours. For the first time last year, students were generally happy to participate via webcam, rather than just type and chat, and I’d like to build on that interaction this year too.

My new things this year might be around more iPad and iPhone integration. I’m going to try to use PlanBook as my lesson planning tool and Flashcards+ as a revision tool for students to use on their phones. Planbook is a bit labor intensive but with its six customisable fields I figure I can get better at integrating some of the recent thinking about explicit instruction that I’ve seen from Hattie and others in the USA. Each lesson plan will be organised under these headings:

Beginning of lesson (learning intention, activate, review, the HOOK)
Presentation (teach the concept, teach the skill, check for understanding)
Guided practice (development and engagement, feedback and individual support)
Independent practice (applying the concept or skill)
Review, clarify, conclude
Homework, assignments, next actions.

I’m going to try to organise each lesson that way; should be interesting! And, at the same time, keep my head around the best ideas coming out of the ‘flipped classroom’ movement.

Should be a fun year! I’ll keep you informed about how it goes.