I actually get more done when I don’t have enough time. I get more done when there is a structure to my days. I think students are often the same. We don’t want to overwhelm students but how we structure and pace our lessons can greatly influence the amount of work students get done. You want to create a productive sense of urgency in the classroom. Your students need to be energized and engaged in the learning. You know yourself that when things drag on you quickly become less engaged and less productive.
Here are some ideas that lend themselves to students getting more work accomplished in shorter amounts of time or ways that teachers have organized time and materials to lessen the amount of wasted time in their classrooms.
- Have a routine that students do when they enter your room to get them on task right away. I recently read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, a classroom teacher who gets her students to read 40 books a year. One of her tricks is to have kids pick up their book and read the minute they enter her class. Some of our core teachers have implemented that practice. It means that not only do your students get more reading done, but it also gives you some time to take attendance quietly, deal with any administrative tasks and maybe get reset from the previous lesson.
- Or other types of “bell work”. The trick to this type of activity is that it needs to be engaging for students. If your routine is that students review their notes from last class they probably won’t do it. Here are some other things that might engage students as they enter your room and could possibly act as review:
- Have a word sort on their tables as they enter
- Have a problem to solve on little white boards as they enter
- Hand students either a question or an answer as they enter and they have to find their partner
- Have students work in pairs to compare homework answers – if they have the same answer chances are it is correct; if they have different answers they have to talk it over
- Get kids up and moving during the class. Post some questions on the walls and have students go around and answer them. If you have a method of students checking their answers after each question, they get immediate feedback. One teacher posted different levels of questions on different coloured cards. As soon as students got three correct of one colour they received that colored dot on their hand and could move on. Don’t have the activity last more than 15 minutes.
- Keep the little white boards in the desks. Keep the math manipulatives in a bin on the desks. Have a bucket of sharp pencils. Have the worksheets/duotangs organized for students to pick up as they enter. Have a system for students to go to the washroom without having to ask you. All of these little organizational tricks (and others) will lessen transition times in your classroom.
- Tell students how long they will have to do the work: “You need to have 3 examples done in the next 15 minutes” “Your group has 5 minutes to think of ten words to describe X” “In 10 minutes we will share 3 different leads to our stories”. Don’t have the end of the work time be when most students are done; rather you set the time limits on the activities. Of course you don’t want to do this for all activities; you don’t want to encourage speed reading or sloppy work. However, creating a sense of urgency and having deadlines for short amounts of work will keep everyone on task.
- Never say “If you don’t get done, then you will have it for homework”. Instead of creating a sense of urgency you have just given every one more time. Kids, and many adults, are not good at organizing time and will just take this as permission to do it later.
- Grab kids who are off task and have them work with you at the guided table for a few minutes. Assume that off-task behaviour is a result of misunderstanding and get them back to work. If everyone is antsy, do some push-ups and jumping jacks or run around the school. It is hard to sit all day. While you may think that this disrupts your pacing, it is more beneficial than constant nagging to get on task.
- Give small chunks to do, especially to the more disorganized kids. The whole page, the whole chapter, the whole story, the whole piece of music is overwhelming and impossible. Their solution is often to do none of it. Beat them to the game and only give them a small chunk and then a check-in. They will accomplish a lot more.
And the last thing the 7 minute talking rule. Very rarely should you talk for more than 7 minutes. Your lesson at the beginning can include you talking for 7 minutes and kids trying things out for another 7 minutes but a lesson that goes much longer would be rare. Mini lessons should be mini. Set a timer if you think you are talking too long. Pacing is usually better when kids are doing more and we are talking less.