A Unique Child

In the moment planning – Unleash the magic of personalised learning

  • In the moment planning – Unleash the magic of personalised learning

Do you love it when your classroom is buzzing with engagement and excitement? ‘In the moment planning’ is about to become your new best friend, says university lecturer, Michelle Windridge…

Relationships are at the centre of all that we do in education. Sitting down to write a scheme of work or weekly plan for the children in our class is no exception. 

Knowing what makes the individuals in our cohort tick – what gets them excited, what their wow factor is – is an essential ingredient when planning for learning to take place. 

Children must be at the heart of the planning process, after all, it is them that we are planning for. It can sometimes feel like our planning is to please Ofsted or to demonstrate to SLT how we have mapped out a sure-fire way of ensuring that our children meet their ‘next steps’. However, the 30 individuals within our class deserve better than this. 

Those 30 little people deserve the very best. They deserve a teacher who will take what needs to be covered from the curriculum and present it in a way that meets their individual needs.

Having spent over 20 years in EYFS classrooms, I’ve seen first-hand how successful it can be to develop a curriculum based on what we learn through positive relationships with our children. 

What is ‘in the moment planning’?

‘In the moment planning’ became a trendy buzz phrase linked to planning for Early Years a few years ago.  However, in essence it’s actually nothing new. 

For years, teachers in EYFS have spent valuable time getting to know children’s interests, where they have gaps and what their next steps are. Research tells us that children learn best through play. We also know that children play more successfully if they feel safe and secure.

Relationships within a classroom are the make-or-break factor in allowing children to feel safe enough to take risks in their play. This must be present for learning to happen. 

High-quality relationships between adults and children must be where the planning process starts. There is nothing that excites me more than rolling my sleeves up and getting down on the floor to play.  The planning process begins here:

  • What does the child already demonstrate that they know while engaged in play? 
  • What are their interests? 
  • How do they interact with the environment around them?

It is from this point that you can then step away and plan purposeful next steps.

Moulding the curriculum

When I qualified almost 25 years ago, downloadable lesson plans were non-existent. Getting to know the children in a class was the basic foundation of the planning process. After all, how else would we find out what our children could do? 

Yes, we had curriculum guidance. But the endless downloadable plans, lists of expectations and next steps did not exist. 

Children in our class had no alternative but to be the amazing individuals that they were. It was our job to mould the curriculum around their needs and interests. 

There is no doubt that teacher workload has increased dramatically over my 25-year career. For this reason, there is a place for downloadable lesson plans. However, these plans have no understanding of the fact that Jack has just had a baby sister and so is feeling a little pushed out. Or that Molly is obsessed with dinosaurs and refuses to engage in anything unless she is pretending to be one. 

I recently visited a primary school that used a very well-known teaching resource website to print off lesson plans for all subjects from nursery to Year 6. SLT were coming from the kindest of places – endeavouring to reduce teacher workload.

However, this had led to a stale, dry and uninspiring curriculum that had no consideration for the children that it was being delivered to.  

Considering individual needs

Your planning must consider the needs of children in your class. After all, young people are not programmed robots that all develop at the same rate.

They need an individualised plan that meets their needs and interests. They also need teachers who are excited to see what they do next.  This relationship is what makes the planning process successful – and it’s not available for download.

How to do ‘in the moment planning’

1. Create a purposeful environment

In the words of Reggio Emilia (Strong-Wilson & Ellis, 2009), the environment is the third teacher. With this in mind, it’s essential to create a purposeful environment that promotes exploration and curiosity when encouraging children to take the lead in their own learning. 

Classrooms are busy places. Without us realising it, they can quite easily become a cave of clutter. This does not necessarily stimulate excitement and curiosity.

This approach does require an element of ruthlessness, however. Recycle or donate any resources that you have not used in the last 12 months.

Displaying a range of interesting resources that will spark a child’s curiosity in a well-organised manner will allow the room to have purpose and space for meaningful learning to take place. 

This aspect of in the moment planning took me quite a while to get used to. I was trained to present perfect tuff trays and immaculate role-play areas.

However, as this approach has the child at the heart, resources need to be readily available for children to explore with their senses, not ‘set up’ by a well-intended adult.  

2. Resist the urge to lead

This stage is probably not a surprise to you as it is at the centre of everything that we do in the EYFS.  When doing in the moment planning we must allow children to choose where they want to explore, rather than guiding them towards a certain activity. As the observer, we must follow their lead.  

Being the teacher in the room, it is often at this point that we get ‘itchy feet’. We want to join in and extend the learning possibilities that we can see before our very eyes. However, stepping back and simply observing what the child can do is an essential part of the planning process.   

At this point, you may make a few notes to act as a reminder for yourself later in the process, but endless written notes or lengthy video recordings are not essential. In fact, they’ll result in you missing some of the magic that is taking place. 

Ofsted is urging us to move away from unnecessary paperwork and be more present in the moment.  Many of us fear that by doing this, SLT may perceive it as us sitting doing nothing when they walk past our room. 

If this is the case, invite SLT into your classroom and share the amazing child-centred learning that is happening. You are the expert. Quite often senior leaders simply haven’t had the opportunity to learn about how learning happens in the early years – yet!

3. Trust your instincts

Planning ‘next steps’ is the stage in the process where you may have to let go of everything that you have ever been taught about planning. 

You can’t download in the moment planning from the internet or borrow it from the teacher next door. Instead, it’s about knowing your children and being confident in your ability. 

Trust your instincts. In the moment planning is very much immediate. It involves spotting ‘teachable moments’ and knowing when the right time to intervene in a child’s play is.

Many of us have been trained to think that meaningful learning can only happen when children are sat next to us at a table, engaging in an adult-led activity. 

After observing what the child has chosen to do, ask yourself what learning you can see happening.  Observe for a little longer and use your knowledge of Development Matters and, crucially, your knowledge of the child to support them while maintaining their engagement and motivation in their play. 

Open-ended questions are a fantastic tool for moving learning forward, but this stage of the process may not involve any talking at all. Adding a provocation to the area may be all you need to inspire that ‘next step’ for the child.

Example of in the moment planning

Observation: Amelie used chunky chalk to make marks on a cardboard box.  She held two chalks simultaneously using a fist.  Amelie pointed to the marks and said “This is a letter for Mummy”.

Teacher input: Added a variety of mark-making materials of all different sizes to the area, eg bingo dabbers, glitter pens, felt tips, paint brushes, coloured water. 

Next step/outcome: Provide a range of mark-making opportunities and different-sized tools and surfaces to provide Amelie with further opportunities to hone her fine motor skills.

Observation: Daniel played with the wooden bricks, placing them one on top of the other. The construction fell down several times. Daniel continued to rebuild the tower each time it did so. “There are too many. There are a hundred bricks.”

Teacher input: Played alongside Daniel, counting each brick out loud. Daniel watched and then copied, saying ‘1, 2, 3, 10, 100”.

Next step/outcome: Provide meaningful opportunities to count objects using 1:1 correspondence eg count apples at snack time, count how many children need milk. Encourage Daniel to physically touch (and move, if possible) each item as he says the corresponding number.

4. Documenting

This stage of the process is probably the biggest reason many educators shy away from in the moment planning. It can be difficult to leave behind the security blanket of learning journals and expensive evidencing software. 

Starting simple is key. The above template involves three key areas:

  • Observation
  • Teacher input
  • Next steps 

Before embracing in the moment planning completely and throwing everything else out of the window, use the template with four or five children in your setting.

See how the sections work for you and adapt them if necessary. As long as you and the other staff in your room can communicate the process and what progress a child is making, in the moment planning is a fantastic tool for engaging children in meaningful and engaging learning.

Michelle Windridge is a lecturer in the School of Psychology, Sport and Education at University College Birmingham.