PLODs, or Possible Lines of Development is a teaching approach for building children’s prior experience into your teaching. What makes great teachers is great thinking. In this series of posts I am sharing some models for thinking; models which codify the thinking that great teachers use, so that we might scale great practice from the ground up.
Possible Lines Of Development (PLODS)
When I was taught how to teach, we always used a particular a model; the three part lesson.
The basic model for such policy as the ‘Literacy and Numeracy hours’ and later the ‘Primary National Strategy’ in the UK, the three part lesson is a standard that has come to dominate thinking around planning lessons in many UK schools. You can use this model to introduce new learning, flagging it up from the start. This gives the session an explicit sense of purpose. A plenary session after some independent learning or practice can allow learners to reflect and deepen their understanding.
The problem with this model is that it can lead to regularly following a transmission model of teaching. Its very structure implies the teacher is the one driving the session, and that learners need to be dependent on them as ’empty vessels’ that the teacher must fill.
The PLODs model
An alternative model I have come across for planning is the use of Possible Lines Of Development (PLODS). This is a model I became aware of when working in a Nursery School and Children’s Centre. It is something that many Early Years teachers are probably familiar with, although I may have adapted it somewhat.
This is a shift from placing the teacher at the centre of the lesson, and making the children ‘receive’ the learning. Instead the children and their experiences and interests are central. This sounds chaotic, but it is often tied together with a provocation. This is a central event, experience or theme to inspire the children to explore their learning.
The thinking is that when provided with experiences which are sufficiently engaging and rich, if children have a good level of well being they will engage with them at the appropriate developmental level, and make choices towards learning that will be moving towards their zone of proximal development. It is then the job of the adults to provide them with appropriate support, questioning or challenge. This needs to move them beyond what they could do on their own.
Using this with older children
Teachers of older children who are used to the three part lesson model could see this as totally outside the normal planning process. However, it is actually a different mode of planning. Rather than defining specific goals, teachers carefully plan the provocation they provide. They spend time brainstorming the possible directions (PLODS) that the children might take from this provocation. A provocation could be anything. It could be a trip, a role play area, a photograph or something a child has brought in from home.
Knowledge of the children and good relationships are obviously paramount here, because the teachers need to know what directions their learners are likely to take, partly so that they can make sure appropriate resources are available, but mostly so that they can seek to pre plan appropriate challenges and lines of questioning that can ensure that the children are challenged, and that they are meeting aspects of the curriculum that they need to develop.
The key to PLODs
This is not about creating a finite choice of directions from which the children choose. Instead it’s about spotting the interesting points for development they might take, and developing appropriate challenge around those areas. Once the planning is over and the learning starts the focus is on keeping those challenges in mind. The point is being responsive to the learners and pushing their thinking by joining in and responding to with challenges but not taking over. This process is often referred to as ‘Sustained Shared Thinking‘, which deserves a post of its own…
Although this sounds very Early Years focused, such learner centred practice can take place higher up the school.
A learner centred approach can seem unstructured to those of us used to lesson plans based on rigid structures. In reality the point of this is focused preparation and knowledge of learners. Rather than tightly planning activities the PLODS model lets teachers explore the potential challenges learners will select for themselves. They can then plan appropriate challenge to ensure beneficial learning is taking place.
For more on this kind of Early Years practice, linked to specific strategies you can use in the classroom, I’d recommend ‘Early Childhood Studies’ by Parker-Rees, Leeson, Savage and Willan.