Posted on 28th September 2022

Colleagues with Benefits: Could your science department benefit from co-planning?

10:11 AM, 28th September 2022
Colleagues with Benefits: Could your science department benefit from co-planning?

Science Mastery is a complete curriculum programme from Ark Curriculum Plus, which includes all the teacher and student-facing resources needed for high quality science lessons, assessments and insights, planning support and guidance, curriculum aligned subject-specific PD, and bespoke school support.

Here, the Head of Secondary Science Mastery, Shauna O’Brien, discusses how a more collegiate approach to lesson planning can result in improved student outcomes.

“The co-planning of lessons is the task that has one of the highest likelihoods of making a marked positive difference on student learning.”

John Hattie, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’, 2012

What does lesson planning look like for you? For your colleagues? How much time do you spend planning each lesson, and what exactly do you do with that time? The answers to these questions will depend on heaps of different factors – your experience as a teacher, your school or Department policies, your confidence in the subject matter, the availability of quality lesson resources, the needs of the students you teach... the list goes on. Most teachers have very limited time in which to plan their lessons, and so the important question is: what can teachers do to ensure that the activities they perform within limited planning time result in maximum impact for their students? The answer to this question may lie in the practice of co-planning.

“The thing is you’ve got that opportunity to talk, to debrief, to reflect, to question, to explore together. And that to me is where the power is. It’s that collective visioning, collective debating, collective sharing of ideas. And then, you go back into your class, you try something, you can get back together again and reflect on how it went or how other people implemented the ideas and the successes that they had. And I guess it’s the belief in the power of collegiality and collective thought that’s really prompted us as a school to really strengthen the teaming concept for next year.”

Owen, S. (2005) ‘The Power of Collegiality in School-Based Professional Development’. Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

Co-planning happens when teachers support each other with the thinking processes that underpin great teaching.

I frequently encounter departments that say they are co-planning (teachers get together regularly to ‘plan’), but whose teachers are doing things in that time that could be done just as effectively individually. The collaboration does not result in significantly better teaching, nor have an impact on student outcomes. In these cases, we’re asking teachers to spend time together with the aim of collaboration, but because teachers don’t recognise a significant positive impact, they become weary of the approach quickly, seeing it as encroaching into their precious PPA. This of course isn’t sustainable, or useful. Some examples of these activities include creating PowerPoints or worksheets together, reading through lesson materials together, making wholesale adaptations on behalf of the entire Department, and planning teaching schedules.

In contrast, here are some activities that are more likely to have an impact on student outcomes:

1. Collective reflection:

Looking at the variation of student responses across a cohort as a team can be a valuable activity. Consider the differences in instruction from one teacher to another. What examples did you use? Did you use a demonstration? What did you say to make that abstract idea easier to understand? Why did less students in this class have X misconception? Really drill down into the nuance of the variation in instruction that each class received, so that best practice is identified and disseminated. We do this on a bigger scale as part of our assessment analysis with the Ark Science and Science Mastery Networks. Following each assessment cycle, we look for schools that bucked trends, and then try to understand exactly what it is about their practice that had the impact. This learning informs our resource design and teacher PD so that over time, the entire Network benefits from that expertise.

2. Anticipate misconceptions:

Often, we focus on picking up and addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings in the lesson, on the fly, using formative assessment. What we talk about less often is how this can be done much more effectively when the teacher has considered the misconceptions in advance and has proactively tailored their exposition and formative assessment to pre-empt these. Consider what the specific misconceptions are (examiner reports, research, and the lived experience of teachers are great sources of wisdom to tap into here). Discuss why this misconception is so prevalent. What precisely can teachers do to address it? Is there particular terminology that we need to be careful with, like ‘mass’ and ‘weight’? Is a certain diagram problematic, like a circulatory system diagram with blue and red blood?

3. Rehearse exposition:

Pick a difficult concept, or something that we know students struggle to understand, will likely have misconceptions about, or that teachers lack the confidence to teach well. Teachers spend 5 minutes writing a script to explain this concept, describing any demonstrations, or questioning that they will use as part of their exposition. Then take turns sharing and discussing the best features of the scripts across the group. I have yet to see a session like this where it wasn’t tangibly obvious that every teacher engaging in the activity would come away with a stronger exposition in the end.

“The use of professional learning communities as a means to improve teaching practice and student achievement is a move that educators support and value, as indicated by teachers’ perceptions of impact.”

Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2007

Each of these activities is powerful because the teacher is gaining from the collegiate approach something which is more difficult to achieve by themselves. The work done in these co-planning sessions has a direct impact on the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. Inexperienced teachers or those teaching out of specialism get the benefit of their colleagues’ experience. Experienced colleagues have a vehicle to hone their expertise further and to explore new approaches.

For Science Mastery partner schools on the Tailored and Leadership tiers, speak to your Development Lead about booking in the ‘Leading Co-Planning’ Development Session, or enquire about the ‘Co-Planning for Teachers’ team training, to explore these ideas in more detail with your school context in mind.

Access a sample Unit Preparation Guide from within the Science Mastery programme below to guide your co-planning for the KS3 Energy topic.


Hattie, J., 2012. Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Vescio, V., Ross, D., Adams, A. (2007) A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education 24. 80–91.

Owen, S. (2005) ‘The Power of Collegiality in School-Based Professional Development’. Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

Science Mastery Unit Preparation Booklet

See a sample booklet made to support teaching each Science Mastery unit, with a pre-unit quiz, common misconceptions and subject knowledge development.

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Science Mastery Unit Preparation Booklet

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