The Lesson Palette: Experimenting with Flexible Lesson Planning


There is something about the rigidity of lesson plans (& intentions, success criteria) that I don’t like.  Even if I co-construct the experience, it is still too linear.  I remember coming across the idea of an inquiry palette.  You know those horrible inquiry visuals with all of those arrows to try & make it seem flexible as a process.  The one provided by TKI online for social science inquiry actually makes me feel dizzy to look at.  There is no way inquiry can be so neatly packed into a process anyway.

full inquiry.png

So linear planning doesn’t work for me when students are on their own learning journey through inquiry.  This is where the idea of a painter’s palette works perfectly.  One can pick & choose what colours to paint with & perhaps some might even be compulsory.



So the idea behind this lesson-plan model is to provide a series of opportunities for learning.  The idea could relate to things like learning stations but it can equally apply to things like formal writing.  Some examples will be scattered below.  It is about to start BETA testing this year & will no doubt change significantly based on our experiences with it.  There are certain experiences that are essential for my students to engage with on a regular basis but this does not mean they have to be regulated in an entirely linear fashion.

Priming: To prepare or make ready.  This refers to preparation requirements.  This may include background reading or planning.  

My unit model is going to be based on two types of lessons: BASE & PROJECT lessons.  BASE lessons tend to be on traditional or teacher-selected topics & PROJECT lessons are linked to the same inquiry but are on students’ interests (each is based upon a 100 minute lesson per week).  For example, in semester one in Level 3 classical studies (the final school year for senior students) our inquiry is on the legacy of the classical world: To what extent has the classical world had a lasting influence on other cultures through time?

So students might look at the influence of old attic comedy on Shakespeare or the influence of Ovid on well … Shakespeare or Renaissance art.  Students might choose to build projects around something in the classical world or from some element in Western culture that has been influenced by the classical world: for example the influence of classical dragons on medieval dragon slaying or classical influences evident in Dante’s Inferno.  In respect to Priming we could draw on planning preparation for project work for the following week or for the BASE unit this would likely be an expectation of regular annotated readings.

Refresh: Give new strength or energy to. This refers to making connections with prior learning.  This may include reviews involving feedback or cogitation.

Unfortunately due to its overuse & misuse (repeated token reflection exercises that made it a chore in other subjects) reflection is a dirty word that I have replaced with cogitation.  However, the concept of Refresh sounds like it inspires action: we look back critically at what we have accomplished before we build new questions to move forward with.

Autodidacticism: To work in an Independent/Self-directed way. This refers to taking ownership of your own learning & managing your time.  It may include a set of assigned accountabilities from your group or your teacher.

I believe in giving students a lot of freedom in choosing how they approach their learning but encoding it in a process of Autodidacticism formalises it.  Having students set their own agenda & outcomes & giving them space to get stuck in is really beneficial.  It also provides a time for those who might want to seek out support to request organized workshops or informal chats.

Activation: To set things in motion. This refers to the development of specific skills & processes (with appropriate scaffolds).  It may include modelling/exemplars or developing inquiry skills.

Modelling & scaffolding are essential elements & having an explicit palette colour to this means we can use it for the whole class when we learn new skills but we can also go over processes & skills multiple times through multiple sessions.  Students might request sessions & ideally run sessions with groups on these.  The focus of this is built into my inquiry model & is about training or learning the tools to go out & take on difficult tasks head on.

Discourse: Written or spoken communication. This refers to the creation of your own interpretation in response to our critical question.  It may include set writing or other communication tasks.  

One does not simply pass an external exam or develop strong written literacy without writing, often.  This does not have to be the form of essay after essay, we use a variety of things from blog-posts to visual essays.  I use a writing system built around cuisenaire blocks (stolen from maths teachers).  Irrespective of form, certain written tropes can be identified as representing the desired things we are looking for: examples of analytical communication or evaluative communication to represent critical thinking skills; the use of evidence & different ways that evidence can be presented; and basic mechanics topic/concluding sentences, citations, etc. The purpose is to build a habit of communication that is aware of the mechanics of communication.

Dialectic: Discussion and reasoning by dialogue. This refers to collaborative critical discussions.  This may include community of inquiry discussions or online discussions.

This acts as a nice function for collaborative critical discussions.  This could take the form of a Philosophy for Children (P4C) community of inquiry or similar approach on a philosophical question to build, critique, & engage with out inquiry or it might take the form of digital conversations using Slack (which you should look into, it is like an organised internal digital twitter).  The points to avoid being insular, to open up your ideas to others for critique & review, & to participate in engaging with others’ ideas.

I am still pondering over the words & whether there are alternatives & what might be missing.  However, I do not want to overcomplicate the process to begin with.  The last section, Convocation, is possibly the most essential  In a sense it acts like a struggle plenary (though not necessarily at the end). Perhaps it might be used in conjunction with something like a Wonder Wall (renamed to something like Mirage of Misery) but it is about creating a regular dialogue of students setting the agenda & direction (no doubt with a little prodding) of their learning.

Convocation: To call/come together.  This refers to meetings for decision-making.  This may include meetings of the whole class or meetings for specific groups.

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