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Objective-led Planning


Objective-led planning has to be the most effective way of taking teaching into children’s play that I have ever used. With objective-led planning you would still group the children by ability based on assessment. Rather than having 'red group', 'blue group' etc for Mathematics or Communication and Language etc. It allows you to group your children by their specific need in each area of learning. So, children who need more support in talk development and less in fine motor can get just that, rather than being in one ability group for both.

What is objective-led planning?

Once you have decided on your teaching focus you group your children in relation to their attainment within that area.

For each group of children you would make a statement of their current performance in that area 'where they are now'.

Then you plan a 'next step' for each group.

It is the next step that you then take into the children's play. I would not call groups of children to me. The success of objective led planning is based on the fact that you go to them.

When you go and play alongside children you get high levels of engagement.

How do you plan for it?

For Objective Led planning you decide on which aspect of a subject you were going to focus on. It could be calculations, talk, upper body movement, pencil grip, ability to independently access the painting area. Anything that has been identified by assessment, observation or curriculum coverage as a need.

First you group your children by their ability within this aspect. 

Next, on your planning sheet, you make a statement of current attainment under each group of children. This is an important stage in the planning process because it crystallises your thoughts about what you think these children are capable of and how you know it. It also lets the whole team know what you are thinking

Then you make a 'next steps' statement of attainment for each group. This is what you are going to take with you into the play and deliver.

If you go into play and you find a group of children of mixed ability, there is no need to syphon them off by their ability level, you just differentiate what you ask them guided by your 'next steps' statements on your planning sheet.

I have found that any more than 3 objectives led planning sheets  in any one setting becomes hard to manage and track. In larger settings adults often double up on one objective and just present it in different ways.

Objective or Activity driven?

Because this type of planning is based on delivering the objective to the children in play and not pulling the children out of play to come to an activity, most of the time you would not be planning an activity for everyone to do. For Continuous Provision to be really continuous, you have got to manage it, be mobile and become part of it.

Having said that, there are times when you are using Objective Led Planning that you would have a ‘starter’ activity. Something that you know will really inspire lots of the children to want to get involved.

The important thing to remember is that you are using this as a springboard, something to get you started. When the interest in your starter activity begins to dwindle, you are not going to go out on the prowl, with your list of children who haven’t done it yet, and drag them in! You would leave your activity and go into the provision with your objectives, looking for opportunities to deliver your next steps. Regardless of how good you are or how exciting your activity seems to you, there will be children who are far more motivated by doing other things. You need to seek out their area of motivation and capitalise on it.

How it can work with and without a starter activity.

One setting that I was working with were trialing working with and without a starter activity. This was partly just to see what difference it made and also because one member of staff felt more confident with a starting point rather than heading off into Continuous Provision armed with nothing more than a clip board. If you are very used to being given an activity planner and a group of children to work with, then this can be a very scary prospect.

The teacher

In this EYFS setting there is a teacher and a teaching assistant.

The teacher has a writing focus for her objective led planning.

She is going to get the children to write using their knowledge of phonics.

She has grouped all of the children by their phonic knowledge and given each group a 'next steps' statement.

She has not planned an activity.

The teacher moved from area to area, observing children, supporting their learning and also delivering her objectives.

She found opportunities for Mark Making and Writing in all areas.

The T.A

The T.A had got a PSRN  focus for her objective led planning

She is working on simple addition

She wants the children to count groups of objects and then combine their total

She has planned a 'starter' activity. She has linked it to the interests of a group of children who are often difficult to engage in focused activities. Her theme for this activity is ‘Pirates’. She has based it in the  outdoor sand tray (for a bit of extra engagement). The children will be collecting coins, counting them and adding them together.

For added effect she has donned a pirate hat, a patch and a broad Cornish accent (that is coming out more Welsh/Irish! But, it all adds to the effect).

She introduces her activity with great flair, and there is lots of interest. Not only from the target group, but also lots of other children.

The children are working in mixed ability groups and the TA is able to use her Objective Led Planning sheet to differentiate teaching and questioning.

Initially she tried writing any extra notes onto Post-it’s but they got very sandy, ceased to stick to the clip board and kept falling off so she resorted to writing on the back of her sheet!

Once interest has dwindled in her activity she then had a go at taking the objective into play. She also delivered her objective during that session in the Malleable Materials area, the Small World, Construction, Workshop, Mark Making and Snack.

Both adults felt that they were able to deliver their objectives successfully. The teacher felt that because the other adult was stationed at a specific area for a long period of the session, she had less time to focus on her objectives as she was spending time ‘maintaining the environment’.

Pause for thought.....

If you come across a group of children of mixed ability  - which you will, because children don't tend to play in ability groups! You just differentiate your questioning to suit the next steps objectives for the ability group of the child you are working with.

If I know that I have got a group of children who have a particular interest in something like Ben 10 then I might create a 'starter activity' that I know is going to grab their interest.

Once they have visited my activity and I have fulfilled my teaching objective then I wouldn't start calling other children over. The activity has fulfilled it's purpose in attracting the children that I was targeting. I would now take my objectives into other children's play.

When the children are in Continuous Provision, the adults will go into that play not only to look for opportunities for assessment and observation, support children's play and discovery but also to teach, delivering an objective that had been identified by assessment as a need and has then been broken down into next steps  for each ability group.

This Objective Led planning might be linked to the direct teaching sessions or it might be linked to any other aspect of the Early Years Foundation Stage that your assessment and observation has identified as a need.

This planning for adults in Continuous Provision would ’probably’ last for a week. I say ‘probably’ because children are not an exact science and sometimes the objective will take much longer to cover than others.

During that week the adult (or adults) responsible for that objective would try to deliver it to all of the children at least once through play

They would probably not have a planned activity that they took around the setting. Instead they would look for opportunities to deliver the next steps objectives through what was engaging the children most.

If a child you were working with didn't understand or achieve the objective then you could revisit it  a number of times in a number of different areas across the week.

By the same token if a child clearly showed that they were beyond the objective that you had set for them then you could revise that objective and deliver it to them again in a different play situation.

Maintaining an environment for learning and skill development

At several points every day Early Years settings experience a phenomenon called ‘Trash Time’. No matter how well you have coached the children in the use of an area or how expertly you have labeled your resources, there comes a point where you look up from what you are doing to find that literally within the last two minutes the environment has gone from organised learning opportunity to a scene from ‘Stig of the Dump’.

This just happens because children are actively using the environment and, with the best will in the world, they are not going to always wash their paint brushes after they have used them or put their scissors back into the right pot.

When ‘trash time’ occurs it has a significant effect on the potential for attainment within your continuous provision.

You have used assessment to plan your areas, you have stocked them with appropriate resources. You have ‘dressed’ some of those resources for interest and you have even enhanced two or three areas with a skills focus. You have indeed dressed your environment for learning success. But, unless children are supported  and helped to choose the right resources, unless the right scissors go back into the Spider Man tin and not the Princess tin, then your well laid plans are likely to fail.

One of the many benefits of Objective-led Planning is that the adults are mobile during Continuous Provision sessions. They are not stuck at one particular table or even one particular area. They are constantly moving through the space looking for opportunities to support children’s learning, observe and assess them and deliver their objective. While the are on the move the adults should also re-set any of the areas that they visit. I am not talking about a full scale tidy up, just literally a one minute re-set. Either on their own or with the children. If every adult did this as a matter of course during Continuous Provision, not only would the environment remain more effective for teaching and learning, it would also take the children far less time to tidy up which in turn would give you more learning time.

Final thoughts…

Although Objective-led Planning promotes high level attainment by capitalising on children’s high level engagement, it can be a huge shift in practice for some practitioners. My advice is to start small and work together.  For a first attempt at Objective-led Planning

  • Choose an area of focus.
  • Work as a team to list your children by their attainment in that one area.
  • Give each group a statement of current attainment
  • Work out the next step (this can take some discussion)
  • Everyone have their own copy of the same Objective Led Planning sheet
  • During a session of Continuous Provision, everyone try it at the same time
  • Compare notes.

Don’t give everyone individual objectives until they are confident with working on a group one.

Just one last thing that it is worth mentioning to your team… Objective- led Planning is a method of teaching that enhances/supports children play. It is not a list of children that you have to ‘get through’ at all costs! Sometimes you will see opportunities to listen, support and engage that are nothing to do with your objective. You just pick it up and put it down as the opportunities present themselves. If you approach a group of children in play and they give you that ‘Back off with your clipboard’ look, then back off. The beauty of Objective-ed Planning is you can always ‘get them’ next time!

Alistair Bryce-Clegg
Alistair is an award-winning Early Years author, blogger, product designer and advocate of PLAY. His work has been published in a number of books and magazines and he has worked as an Early Years advisor for film and television projects. Alongside support and training for a range of settings and schools, he also works Internationally and with Local Authorities across the UK. Most of his time is spent supporting practitioners in their settings or delivering key notes and training both nationally and internationally. Alistair has an MA in Education and is currently studying for his Doctorate in Early Years. He also finds time to be a husband to Fee and father of 3 boys (now young men!).

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