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Finding the Time, Part 1: Teachers Must Preserve Their Most Valuable Resource

| Ben Johnson

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.

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Taking the time back (not verified)

Different approaches to starting class

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During the course of the year I have tried many different approaches to the start of class. When entering a high school atmosphere I knew the students were focused on their social life and not so much the math I would like for them to learn. There had to be a way to gain back those firt few minutes lost in each class and I think I have finally found a method that works for me.

As the sudents walk into class their warm up page is already on the board. This isn't the typical five math question warm up; instead, the students have five ice-breaker questions. I started out small with questions such as, "if I were an animal, I would be _______, because ________." As the weeks go on I try to get questions that make the kids think more about their lives and about their future.

This is the best procedure I have in my class. The students come in, put their bookbags to the back and get started on their warm-up. They know the clock will stop after about 3 minutes and all answers must be in complete sentences. We go around the room giving three people the chance to share their answers. After three people we move onto the next quesion. When the questions are complete, the students beg me to answer (which is why I'm careful of the questions asked), and then we move on with the lesson.

All students are accountable for their questions. Every Friday the warm-ups are collected and put in as a quiz grade for the week. I can't ask for anything better; my students are focused from the time they enter the room until they leave. This is the best thing I have ever done for my students and for myself. Questions/Situations from the "IF..." book work just as good. And don't think I spend hours thinking of questions, there are plenty of websites with ice-breaker questions.

Hope this helps some other people gain back their time and focus into the classroom.

And...I completly agree with the comment between 4th graders and 9th graders...they are very similar with their needs and wants. It is almost crazy to think that my ninth graders are at the level of fourth graders, but in many ways they are.

Leah (not verified)

The importance of time

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I also agree with the importance of time in the classroom. I teach first grade and don't want to waste what little available instructional time that I have with my students. I also sing learning songs, practice math facts, and ask questions during transitions and free time. Luckily, by nature, I am a person who likes to keep things moving. At times, I don't give my students enough down time or "slow down" time. I feel like my problem is that I sometimes try to do too much in too little time. Having a routine and sticking to a routine is not only good for the students but the teachers. One extra comment I would like to add is that although homework may extend instructional time, it is not always a resource that is an option. I come from a school with a high transient rate and my students come from homes with very little parent support. This makes homework a difficult task. Our school did offer an after school program for a few years when we qualified for a grant. This was a great resource that did lenthen instructional time and helped focus on more individualized needs.

Anonymous (not verified)

Where does the time go?

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I absolutely agree that time is one of the most important resources for teachers. This is a subject of discussion on a daily basis between my colleagues and I. In my district,there 184 days in the school year. I only get to see my students every other day, so if we miss a day because of snow, I am now behind in those classes from that day and have to play catch up. Then, you also have to take into account early dismissals, field trips, assemblies, and the countless interuptions during the day. One technique that I have heard from another teacher is to have someone appointed as the "disruption police". If someone comes to the door, they will go to the door and hand them a note stating for them to come back when they won't be interrupting an education. I thought this would work great in an elementary classroom. As a middle school teacher, I am not sure how this would work. I share classrooms with other teachers and they are constantly coming in and out of the room.

One thing I try to do to save some time is to check the homework as the students are working on their warmups. I have 90 minute blocks with my students and still feel like its not enough time to get my activities accomplished. Being a second year teacher, I am still working on the whole classroom management piece of teaching. This takes a big chunk of time.

Jen (not verified)

Strategy for beginning each day

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I teach gifted - so my classroom is a little different than the norm. Organization is the key to saving time. I begin each day with a "class meeting". During that time - we take a quick look at our unit calendar, go through what should be accomplished that day, and then get to work. If any acitivities need to be introduced I begin them then, or right after we return from lunch. That way once the students get started, they do not have to stop and transition. I also provide my students with a check list of activities for each unit of study. As they finish one activity, they can move onto others at their own pace.

Sue (not verified)

Making best use of time

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I have always looked for ways to bring more lessons/learning into the very little time that we have to teach each class period in my high school. I found that a pattern of students needing to use the restroom or go to their locker has wasted so much time, not only for me but for their classmates and for themselves. Your idea of learning during bathroom breaks made me think of a way for my students to earn their trip to the restroom by answering a question based on the material that we're learning in class at that time. If they can't correctly answer the question, they don't get to leave the room. Thanks for the idea.

Colleen (not verified)

Wasted time

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I really enjoyed reading your blog. You are so right about all the wasted time we have throughout the day. I teach kindergarten and as you know, everything takes time! I try to make the most out of my time by playing little games during transition time and restroom breaks. The children love participating because I make it like a game show. We review rhyming words, sight words, letters and sounds. I have found restroom breaks go so much smoother because the children are interested and would rather be in the game than playing around in the bathroom. It can be hard when you have these block times you need to fulfill with language arts and math and constantly have interruptions! I just continue with my routines and classroom management to minimize the interuptions and maximize the learning!

jks (not verified)

Time...

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Wow, I thought it was just a private school thing to have teachers who wear many hats! It must just be a teacher thing. My school day is longer then the area public schools yet it seems we still spend more time out of classroom.

Ben Johnson <author> (not verified)

Papers

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I found that best way to handle paper is once. What I mean by that is if you pick it up, deal with it right then and never keep something just in case.

Important communications need to be kept, so either create a binder or a folder to keep them in for future reference. When you pick it up, that is where you put it--not in another pile.

Keep a lesson plan notebook (some keep one for each class) that contains ideas and notes as well as your actual plans.

Are the portfolios used by the students or the teacher? Perhaps the students should be the ones taking care of them in central cubby holes, bins, boxes or even at their own desk.

Grading papers comes in two categories- Completion and quality. A teacher does not have time to grade all papers for both elements. Beforehand, a teacher should pick just a few papers to grade on quality, and the rest can be graded on if the student did it or not. It is easy for teachers to get buried in student work if you ask the students to hand in everything. On homework, I wanted to get an idea if the students were actually doing it and what their mistakes were, so I would ask the students to take out the homework, then I'd grab my grade book and walk around the class, marking done, partial, or not done on the grade for that day. It took just a couple minutes, after doing that, then I would spend a few minutes going over the mistakes that I noticed on their papers when I was walking around.

Depending on the age of the student and the complexity of the standards, students can grade each other's papers. Not all of the student work gets into the grade book either. Grading papers looses its effectiveness as a motivating force the longer the gap between completion and return, so get the paper back to the student or in their portfolio as soon as possible. This also keeps your desk clean.

Depending on the age of the students, they are the ones that use them. Let them take care of them in their own desks or tables. All the scissors, glue, pencils and crayons should be in their hands anyway. The extras, box away until they are needed. Paper supplies should be accessable to students and can be easily separated by color and type with cheap cardboard organizers.

Make a goal that each day you will leave the classroom with your desk clean. It makes a great way to start the day the morning after. Creative teachers find ways to recoup wasted time while waiting for the copier, chatting in the lounge or at faculty meetings so by the end of the day, there is a minimal amount of paper pushing.

Finally, just to assure you, it does get better as you learn what is really important and what is just wasting your time.

I have found that Harry Wong's book, The first days of school (2005) to be full of very effective techniques to minimize clutter and save time.

Hope this helps. Good Luck!

Ben Johnson Natalia, TX

Wong, Harry and Rosemary (2005) How to be an effective teacher the first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry Wong Publications, Inc.

Michelle Rossi, Stockton, CA (not verified)

More Learning Time

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Reading the article and the thoughts of others, I too agree that time needs to be better utilized. However, I do see this as a challenge for most teachers. There are many things that seem to effect the schedule or classroom activities. One of them is the incredible amount of testing. This is just one example but I find that my planning needs to be flexible because there are going to be interruptions. Even still, I think I do need to work on time in transitions. This seems to be a problem for me because my students do not want to change subjects until they finish the one they are working on. I guess you could say they are engaged but when we have to move onto another subject and clean up, this takes up a lot of time. I have tried music and timed transitions, and I would say, they are taking atleast 5-7 minutes to clean up and prepare for the next lesson. This time adds up through out the year and I really want to cut it down to 2 minutes. I will continue to look at ways of doing this. Any ideas would be helpful.

Daniel Glover (not verified)

Juggling Time

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I feel that the best comparison that can be made between teaching and another profession is a juggling. A juggler has to keep as many things up in the air and spinning as possible. Teachers do the same. Teachers juggle instruction, student engagement, behavior and participation, decsion making, planning, meetings, standards, and the list goes on and on. And the whole time keeping time in mind. Time for covering state curriculum, planning, grading, and of course every other thing in their own lives. I would have to say that the most important thing when it comes to "time" is to make the most out of it. Just like we teach our students "use your time effectively."

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