George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Finding the Time, Part 2: Reclaiming Wasted Moments During the School Day

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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This is the second part of a two-part entry. Read part one.

If we evaluated how much time a student is actually engaged in learning activities in each of our classrooms, what percentage would that be? Is it 100 percent? Is it 50 percent? Or is it only 25 percent? If we want students to really learn, we, as educators, have to plan for, facilitate, and vigilantly protect the increasingly precious and extremely important engaged student learning time.

Other elements of instruction time we must consider are the things that steal it away from us. Some time robbers are of our own doing, while others are interruptions that occur because schools are full of people who need things. Common self-made time robbers include taking roll, lunch counts, passing out papers, and waiting for students to line up, be quiet, or pay attention.

Others we sometimes don't think about as much are transition times between activities or subjects, instructions dictated to students who should know the routine, poorly designed discipline procedures, poor communication of the day's activities to students, students not being involved in reaching daily goals and objectives, and lack of teacher preparation for student learning activities. There probably are more, but these are sufficient to show that in a typical classroom, we waste extraordinary amounts of time for one reason or another.

I visited an elementary school in Richardson, Texas, that had a wonderful way to reclaim wasted time. At this school, teachers take students to the restrooms as a whole class before going on to another activity. Teachers have learned that it is not wise to allow all the students into the restroom at the same time.

So, what do these teachers do with the rest of the students while they are waiting? They have a bulletin board in the hallway in front of the restroom. On the board, they affix five manila envelopes and label them with state learning objectives for several subjects. In each of the folders, slips of paper contain a question that relates to the learning objective posted on the folder. The teacher asks a student to select a learning objective and pull out the piece of paper. The students have a wonderful time asking and answering questions while waiting to use the restroom. This simple activity reclaims valuable time that would have been wasted.

In the classroom, a creative teacher can reclaim much of the wasted time through several methods: ringing a bell to start a class, establishing routines and habits for transition times, and anticipating as much as possible all of the other time-robbers that either confront us out of the blue or are inherent parts of the school system.

Although we have myriad resources available to us as teachers, the most important resource is the time we have to provide for engaged student learning. Without this component, all of the valuable resources at our beck and call are meaningless. We create and design this essential time through careful planning and consistent time-reclamation efforts. If used appropriately, time can be a teacher's greatest resource. Given time, we can become the best possible teachers. And in time, our kids can become the best possible students. Fortunately, we have all the time in the world -- well, at least as much as anyone else.

I, and every other educator, would be interested in hearing about your time-reclamation efforts. What methods do you have to fight time robbers? Please share your thoughts.

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Anthony Cafarella's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with you Ben. It is necessary to take advantage of all the time that is given to us. I make sure I have an activity for the students whenever they come into my classroom. Sometimes I preview the lesson, sometimes I review the last lesson, and sometimes I put something fun on the board. It is very important for a teacher to be prepared and organized and the more the teacher is prepared and organized the less time in the class will be wasted.

Amy Schadler, Misty Johnson, Sue Ellen Dowler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When transitioning, whether in the hallway or the classroom, try using Brain Teasers to keep the students active in learning. While waiting in line in the cafeteria, ask them simple math problems that they can answer without paper and pencil.

The bulletin board is a great way to occupy time while waiting in the hallway. If you can coordinate with other teachers, you can create multiple bulletin boards. This way you can always have questions nearby to occupy time in the hallway.

Erin Wilson's picture

When transitioning to use the restroom, I have my students play the "clock" game or "sparkle" to help use mathematicds to keep students engaged and minimize wasted instructional time. For the clock game, I choose a student and whisper a time to them. He/She was to make the time whispered on the clock and choose someone sitting quietly to read the clock and them make the next time. Sparkle is a spelling game student can play while waiting other to use the restroom. To play, tell the first person in line a word to be spelled. Each student down the line says one letter at a time to spell out the word. Then the word does not have any more letters in it, the next student says "sparkle" and the game continues with a new word. I love the idea of occupying time while waiting for lunch as well. Thanks for a great article and post comments.

keisha speller's picture
keisha speller
fifth grade teacher NC

Love the bulletin board idea. My students have been using this time to participate in the Accelerated Reader program. There is a bulletin board located directly in front of the bathroom. I am going to give my students the option of reading or answering questions. Sparkle is also a great game, my students love playing it and really prepares them for their spelling tests.

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