George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Tips for Beating the Clock in the Classroom

March 25, 2013
Image credit: Veer

In Texas, there are 180 days of instruction, taking away 30 days for state testing so that leave 150 days for instruction. Let's say that a teacher gives a curriculum-based test once every two weeks and the district benchmark test three times a year. That is 21 less days of instruction or 129 days. Now, schools typically have three days of teacher in-service. Five special assemblies, two holiday parties, two half days, four emergency drills and three sick days takes away 15 more days bringing it to 111 days.

Now count that each class instead of 55 minutes is 45 minutes because of the five minutes of taking roll and getting the class started and five minutes of closure and putting things away. Instead of 385 minutes a day, it now equals 315 minutes a day in a typical secondary school. If we do the math, then the bare minimum we have are 91 days with which to teach. The shocking thing is that this represents about one half of the time allotted in a year.

Time Wasters

To make matters worse, there are all sorts of things that teachers may do that take away time in the classroom, most of which can be easily eliminated with advanced planning and practice:

  • When a teacher takes time to write on the white board for students to copy
  • When a teacher takes time to pass out papers, or collect them
  • When a teacher repeats exactly what a student just said, or even worse, repeats himself several times
  • When a teacher loses time in transitioning from one activity to another
  • When a teacher does not have an effective system that minimizes the effect of students leaving class for the restroom or the office
  • When a teacher does not have a system for absent students to catch up with the classwork missed

Jigsaw and Collaborative Groups

The above are significant time wasters, but to tell you the truth, the worst time wasters are any activities that are not effective instructional practices. To counteract this for example, time-sensitive teachers use the jigsaw method instead of reading a PowerPoint to the students. Rather than having the students do round-robin reading of a book or a chapter, this type of teacher has them all read at the same time, or in small groups. When this teacher needs to lecture, she provides the students with concept maps or interactive notes in order to increase learning time. Instead of asking questions to only one student at a time a teacher intent on maximizing time will have all the students answer the question or have them ask and answer in pairs so that more students get opportunities to learn.


A time-conscious teacher avoids asking, "Any questions?" when moving on to another topic, but instead asks students to explain to their partners what they just learned and then wanders the room listening carefully to their answers. Such a teacher gives a diagnostic test to find out what students already know so he doesn't waste time teaching it again. A teacher intent on increasing learning time creates a system to help students learn from mistakes made on formative quizzes and tests. A teacher concerned with saving time will invest the time wisely by giving students at least three different opportunities to master the learning thereby increasing student confidence and building on success rather than failure.

Use Rubrics and Preview Vocabulary

A teacher interested in preserving learning time will develop and strengthen content vocabulary prior to using the words in a lesson so that when the students hear the words in context, they already know what they mean. This type of teacher is intent on creating successful learning opportunities and makes sure to provide students with a clear rubric of learning expectations before assigning learning projects so no time is wasted re-explaining and answering questions on how to do the project.

The time-wise teacher knows that each of the above strategies and activities requires that the teacher invest time and energy prior to implementing these practices in the classroom. This level of teacher will invest the necessary time to prepare well thought-out lessons and learning activities that engage all students at their appropriate level, knowing that this will save time in implementing the lesson and increase content retention, thus saving time from having to re-teach.

Many of you are time-wise teachers and I am interested in learning how you save time in the classroom. Please share in the comment section below.

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