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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Finding the Time, Part 1: Teachers Must Preserve Their Most Valuable Resource

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

If I were to ask you what the most valuable resource that teachers have at their disposal is, what would you answer?

You might consider the teacher's knowledge or skills in teaching as his or her most valuable resource. You might think support from the school administration, a well-written curriculum, sufficient teaching aids, varied strategies, or perhaps even the students themselves would be the most valuable resource to an educator. Amazingly enough, though, it is the resource that we often pay the least attention to and end up abusing (wasting) more than any other. I contend that the most valuable resource that a teacher has is time.

In many states, teachers have only about 180 days (177 days in my district) in which to get their students to acquire the knowledge and skills state requirements dictate. Add in numerous activities that may be worthwhile but that still chip away at those 180 days. Some activities -- such as sports, band, drama, and special celebrations -- do so in large chunks:. But there are also the small time wasters that add up: morning announcements, classroom business, students being summoned to the office, and other classroom interruptions.

The most important aspect of time for educators is the amount students spend actively engaged in the learning process, not simply the amount they spend on school grounds. In a previous post, I discussed some ways to develop a sense of urgency and how to provide a reason to do things now in the classroom. How teachers and schools spend their time is the critical issue in establishing urgency.

I see three aspects to a teacher's time: preparation time, instruction time, and professional-duty time. I would like to discuss instruction time and how to reclaim it.

Instruction time begins the moment the teacher greets his or her students in the hallway and ends the moment the young people leave the campus. Wait! Is that really the end of instructional time? No. Most schools employ a simple trick to extend the instructional time of the classroom: homework. (Unfortunately, homework is sometimes otherwise known as busywork.) So, if students view homework as a review and extension of what they learned in class, learning time can and should extend into the home.

During a typical lesson, a teacher employs the professional teaching-and-learning cycle: study, select, plan, implement, analyze, and adjust. You can read a brief explanation of the cycle in a comment I made to another previous blog entry. During the implementation phase (Madeline Hunter would be proud of me), the teacher spends time introducing the lesson, giving direct instruction, and modeling the lesson. The teacher then gives the students both guided and individual practice, followed by a final closure activity.

Of all of those time segments, which one is the most important? To answer that question, I'll ask another question: When are the students learning the most? Wouldn't that be when students are practicing? Looking at this issue more closely, in a traditional class, are all students learning if they are simply listening to the teacher talking?

Not likely. Even though some students may be able to retain the information in short-term memory, the rest will have difficulty remembering what the teacher said without notes or aids. The only ways to push knowledge or comprehension-level information and skills into long-term memory is practice, memorization, or participation in varied higher-order thinking activities. (See Bloom's Taxonomy.) These activities are, by their very nature, engaging activities. A student cannot easily sit by while all of the other students are actively engaged in a project.

Please share your thoughts, and read part two of this entry.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (115)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

J Telligman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great ideas!
Harry Wong's The First Days of School was a required reading when I was in college. I need to revisit this book to help me with some time saving tips since I feel that I am constantly struggling for time. I have found that group restroom breaks help. While the students are waiting for their turns, I quiz them on spelling words or skills from our math meeting. They love this! It also helped cut down on discipline issues while waiting for everyone to use the restroom.

Kara Sevalstad's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have never thought of the time we have as educators until I read this blog. It gave time in general a whole new meaning to me as a teacher. When we stand at the front of the classroom and spend time explaining what the lesson is on, you can always tell students aren't as engaged as they would be if they were doing something hands on or being involved in the explanation of the lesson. This would save us as teachers a lot of time and keep students interested as well. We only have so much time in a day as we all know and each minute is precious to the students' learning and to us teachers too.

Bruce Borchardt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like that idea of using time while waiting by the bathroom or I could see while they are getting their drinks or going to a special. Using these times can help increase learning and to help on the discipline. I can see this working for other times too. What about fire drill whlle waiting outside before going in or the lunch line (maybe not, the mind is on food, not learning at this time).

Eugenia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always wish that I had more instruction time during the day. There is a lot to cover and with the increasing demands on our students, time is certainly very valuable. I find that classroom management is the key to ensuring that every student is engaged and on task. The routine is practiced thoroughly within the first weeks of school. This prevents future behavior problems and interruptions. The students are clear on the expectations and learn to use their time wisely. This article made me realize how much time is truly lost when there are interruptions such as assemblies, announcements, etc. I agree that students need more time practicing and participating in activities.

As my students finish tasks at different times, I have learning centers set up around my classroom. The class is aware that they need to pick an activity to work on until it is time to transition. This prevents students from constantly coming up to me and asking what they can do since they are done early.

Eugenia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always wish that I had more instruction time during the day. There is a lot to cover and with the increasing demands on our students, time is certainly very valuable. I find that classroom management is the key to ensuring that every student is engaged and on task. The routine is practiced thoroughly within the first weeks of school. This prevents future behavior problems and interruptions. The students are clear on the expectations and learn to use their time wisely. This article made me realize how much time is truly lost when there are interruptions such as assemblies, announcements, etc. I agree that students need more time practicing and participating in activities.

As my students finish tasks at different times, I have learning centers set up around my classroom. The class is aware that they need to pick an activity to work on until it is time to transition. This prevents students from constantly coming up to me and asking what they can do since they are done early.

Gloria's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the challenges I have as a teacher is managing the time. It takes my class almost 15 minutes out of a 45-minute block to settle down. it's either they are late for class, or they need to go to the bathroom, or they just don't want the lessons. I teach the 7th grade.
So, what I do now, is to award points to the early-comers. But I think I shall give out peppermints also to make it more fun for them.

Gloria's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In my school (it's a middle school), the students are normally not allowed to go to the restroom during classes.
Today, we finished the lessons 10 minutes before the end of the period. so I decided to try the restroom quiz and it worked! Even the weakest student in my class made an effort to answer a question just so I'd let her go to the restroom.
Thanks.

Phil's picture
Phil
Teacher and Ed-Tech Blogger at BrokenAirplane.com

So much of our class time is devoted to direct instruction when technology has afforded us the opportunity to be present outside the classroom. Using video tutorials, I and my colleagues have freed up extra time to discuss, and explore. There are lots of resources out there already like the Khan Academy but if you want to create your own, I have created tutorials on my website that you can use to make them for free.

Make Your Own Video Tutorials part 1
Make Your Own Video Tutorials part 2

How will you use your extra time?

Flo Anthony's picture
Flo Anthony
4th grade teacher

I find that other peoples' agendas take away from teaching time in the classroom as well as planning time for teachers.

Sam Dunham's picture
Sam Dunham
High School Social Studies Student Teacher

Entrance/exit slips are a great way to save time otherwise wasted during roll call, and double as a quick assessment tool. I also like the strategy I've seen in elementary classrooms of moving your name tag on the wall to signify you've arrived, but that runs the risk of the students skipping class, but getting away with it by having their friend move their tag for them.

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