PLODs: Teaching Possible Lines Of Development

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.

This series of posts was developed into my book ‘The Thinking Teacher‘. Read more on these ideas in the book.

Possible Lines Of Development (PLODS)

When I was taught how to teach, we always used a particular a model; the three part lesson.

A diagram of the 3 part lessonThe 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.

Transmission teaching

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.

PLODs diagram - all possibilities start with a provocation

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.



3 responses to “PLODs: Teaching Possible Lines Of Development”

  1. Tim Handley Avatar

    A really interesting post (as always!).
    I agree 100% about the traditional 3 part lesson, which too was the bedrock of my teacher training leading all too often (but not always) to teaching as the transmission of information. It’s certainly interesting to see how rigidity some people stick to the 3 part lesson!

    I really like the PLODS model- partly because it gives a ‘theoretical base’ in part to the approach I’ve been trying to take where ever possible for the past 6 or so months. I really believe in following the learners interests, questions and natural curiosity.

    In all of our themes this year, we are incorporating an element of this approach- whether that be for specific sessions like in the Greek theme we have just finished (where the ‘provocation’ was often an image/artifact) or, for whole themes. I’ve found this most powerful so far when we’ve taken the approach over a complete theme- with a ‘over arching ‘provocation’ and often smaller ones too.

    Last year with our 5, we taught our rain-forest theme through an approach similar to this- I started off by choosing our initial stimulus and mapping out possible directions which this could be taken. We started the theme with a few sessions exploring the stimulus (the painting ‘Suprised’) together, and generating lines of enquiry/questions etc- the children choose some of these to explore together (and the order in which to explore them in) and we explored these as a class, often using another stimulus and similar approach. The children were then encouraged to explore any of the remaining questions as their homework for the half term, and we also gave some time in school so they could be supported in this too.

    The children commented on how much they enjoyed working in this way. It also was ‘refreshing’ for me as a teacher, and allowed me to really make use of the children’s passion and enthusiasm.

    We are taking a similar approach to our theme next half term with year 4- ‘The show must go on…’- this time we are taking a common experience (our trip to the Lion King just before half term) but also a defined ‘product’ (our own production.) I am meeting with my Deputy Head who is teaching with me some afternoons tomorrow to mind-map the different lines of enquiry that may be followed and use our first session after half term to support the children in generating their own lines of enquiry, questions etc. We are going to make it clear to the children that whilst we do have a shared end ‘product’ this is just one of the things that we will achieve by the end of the half term- the rest will be determined by the lines of enquiry they choose to follow. Having the 2 classes together in the afternoon will hopefully give use more flexibility to support the children in independnalty exploring questions, whilst also sometimes perhaps offering a choice of 2 different lines of enquiry (from the children’s list) which 2 halves of the class will investigate with adult support, and then report back to each other etc…

    Now this comment has gone on way too long already- but I think one of the key things with this type of approach is developing the skill of asking questions- without that, children may find it harder to generate their own lines of enquiry.


    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Tim. Glad to have ‘provoked’ some thoughts, but it is also really interesting to hear how you have been using similar methods. One of the powerful things about these models I think is that they allow us to codify the kind of great approaches you describe, so that we can use them again and again in different situations.

      I agree that questioning is key to this. Supporting children to ask interesting questions, and developing their thinking through questions are fundamental to this kind of approach. I am looking for models for thinking to help with questioning, I have a few ideas but do share any you know or have used.

  2. Nikki Avatar

    Great post! I am an early years teacher and was introduced to plods at my first school. I love them and they led to us planning much more interesting learning experiences for the children. I completely agree that the approach can seem chaotic (and scary if you are used to a more formal way) to parents as well as teachers. But after the initial leap of faith we all learnt to love them.
    We used to create them with the children and I loved it when you would hear them telling slightly bemused grown ups about their plods.
    I always felt it was a shame that the children didn’t get to carry on in this vain as by the end of reception they would think of really interesting ideas to add.
    I feel with pbl approaches if the children have built on this style of learning right through they could achieve astonishing things.

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