School teachers have a world of worries. From nose-bleeds to wet pants, and from broken furniture to flying stationary, they all come right under the teacher’s domain of responsibility. The nature of mishaps and random occurrences is such that every single lesson brings its own surprises.
One very common issue to be tackled by teachers is that of bored students. It is when they are bored by the lesson that they seek other forms of ‘entertainment’, in the form of pulling someone’s hair or throwing spitballs at the teacher. While boredom is surely not the only reason children act out in school, it is understood to be the predominant one in many cases.
The causes of attention span problems could range between the lack of understanding of the topic under discussion, and the topic being below the knowledge level of students, hence not able to capture their interest. Both categories of students exist in every class, and so do the varieties in between. This problem is one that teachers are forever looking to find solutions for, in order to increase the efficiency of their lessons, with maximum benefit to the students.
The tricky part is, each lesson is allotted a fixed amount of time. Thus, the TRUE challenge of the teacher is not just keeping the class under control, teaching new concepts, assessing their understanding, all the while making the lesson interesting. The true challenge is making sure all of this fits into a fixed time period.
Classroom time management in lesson planning is tedious and nerve-wracking. While all teachers plan according to the nature of their subject; for example Science teachers will plan experiments and English teachers will plan reading activities etc., the following tips apply to all school teachers, regardless of subject or grade level.
1. Coffee Time
You know how when you wake up, you can’t actually function until you’ve had that cup of coffee? Or that cold shower? Or that morning run? Whatever the ritual is, every efficient person has something they must do in the morning that will switch their brain to active-mode.
Just like adults, children need that morning burst of energy before they are able to soak in the knowledge they need to conquer the world. Teachers can choose from a wide range of activities that they can adopt as class morning rituals. Whether it’s an exercise, a mantra, or an open discussion, this is the time that sets the tone for the rest of your students’ day.
Effective morning rituals for classrooms vary according to age groups and class levels. Students of preschool and elementary respond well to songs and dances. Middle school students can be excited about a quick debate concerning a current issue of their interest. There is a whole universe of morning activity ideas to choose from.
The One-Minute Greeting is popular among elementary school teachers. This is an interactive exercise where the teacher sets a timer to one minute, during which time all students greet each other with a handshake, eye contact, and a few words. This proves to be an excellent ice-breaker among students, as well as a kick-start to the day.
Another common practice, which can be used for middle school students as well, is taking out some time in the morning for “problem-solving”. This could include discussions about bullying, disrespecting school property, or any personal issues that students want to bring forth. Carrying out an all-inclusive discussion gives every student the right to an opinion, and sets the perfect tone for the rest of the day.
The Coffee Time ritual is not just for the beginning of the day. It can be used at the beginning of a lesson at any time. The basic principle is the same. Take five to ten minutes of the beginning of your lesson to loosen up, freshen up, and gear up for a fantastic lesson.
2. Incorporate Technology
In an increasingly tech-advanced world, there is no turning away from the fact that classrooms need technology too. Over the past decade, technology has been coming up with innovations directly targeted at classrooms to enable an interactive learning experience for students. The more educational institutes incline towards technological devices, the more apparent the advantages become. The hands-on experience gained by students through technology is simply incomparable to the traditional method of teaching.
The advent of technology in educational institutes has not only changed the lives of students but of teachers as well. The efficiency of lessons has increased dramatically as teachers can use software to plan activities and lessons in an efficient manner. The applications built in smartboards or interactive touchscreens are designed in a way that assists the teacher to manage time more efficiently than when she/he was left to their own devices.
The interactive whiteboards from SMART Technologies, for example, include the SMART Learning Suite. This is a fantastic set of applications catered to educationists looking to increase efficiency in their classrooms. Offering the ability to design activities, assessments, as well as custom-made games for students, this software, along with others of its kind, is a total game-changer for teachers that struggle to manage a wide variety of material in a short span of time.
The growth of blended learning classrooms is spreading widely and consistently. The idea of each child holding their own tablet that links with the smartboard in front of the class is not entirely newfangled anymore. Children are able to answer assessment questions, make notes, and collaborate with peers on projects, all through their interactive touchscreens.
Once a teacher can assess student understanding through a carefully designed software, think about the amount of time that is saved from manual test designing and manual checking and feedback. When a teacher is able to show students a labeled image of a butterfly and its life cycle on an interactive whiteboard and allow children to come up to the screen to circle, underline, or write down important points, imagine the time it takes away from tedious preparation tasks. The teacher no longer has to draw, label, and tag her display chart. He/she no longer has to distribute markers in the class and make sure no one is using theirs to label their class fellows instead.
3. Set a Timer
As old school as it seems, especially after the discussion on technology, some practices are too useful to let go of. The association with a sound marking the end of an activity is something that helps keep focus directed and prevents distraction.
Think about the alarm clock. It has been the sole reason so many people have made it work on time, for so many years. Now that we have transitioned into the era of smartphones, people set alarms and sound reminders for all kinds of activities. The brain needs a jerk to snap out of one activity, and prepare itself for the next. The sound of an alarm does just that.
During class activities, students tend to get either so deeply involved that they lose track of time, or so distracted that they lose concentration on the main task at hand, hence dragging the completion of the job way beyond its planned time. For these reasons, a timer sounding a bell when the activity is close to its end time is a practice not to be dismissed.
The teacher may set the timer in a way that warns students that, say, only ten minutes are left so that they start winding up. Then another bell can be sounded once it’s time to hand in their assignments/projects. Moreover, a bell sounding a couple of minutes right before class ends lets the teacher know that it’s time to wind up the lesson and guide the class to begin concluding their thoughts on the topic.
This practice not only increases classroom efficiency for the teacher but directly influences the students’ classroom time management habits as well. It encourages them to learn how to divide their tasks in such a way that best utilizes their time.
4. Constructive Feedback During Class
It is no secret that teachers are forever buried under a stack of assignments to check. Many a time, teachers tend to let the students work on individual assignments during class, and leave the checking to later.
While it is important to let children have a chance to make their own mistakes and not hinder creativity, it is extremely useful to point out errors in assignments WHILE they are in the middle of it. Teachers can rotate the classroom and keep a close eye on students’ work without making them feel scrutinized. This gives the teacher a chance to encourage students when they incorporate taught strategies. Positive feedback in person has an immediate effect on students’ progress.
This method not only saves time when the teacher checks assignments later – owing to the reduced amount of errors to correct – but also helps students to learn from their mistakes more efficiently. Children are sure to remember something they have had pointed out to them in the middle of a task, more than when they are handed back a written paper with a list of corrections made by the teacher.
You can find more helpful guidelines on constructive feedback here.
5. Be Prepared
While this may seem cliché to some, it is something that is easily lost in the daily hustle-bustle of a teacher’s life. It is also almost the most crucial part of classroom efficiency. Just like it’s important to prepare for the next morning before you go to bed, all other essential daily activities require some prep time the previous day.
If it’s reading from a new text, the books should be ready. If it’s a science project, all materials should be placed in order, ready to use. If it’s an online activity, the program should be set, and any customizable text entered and saved. If it’s a demonstration using the smartboard, the relevant images and text should be saved and ready to go. These are only a few examples out of the hundreds of ways a teacher can prepare for each lesson a day in advance. This is a ritual that is sure to save five to ten minutes from your lesson so that you can use that time for things that are beneficial to the students.
Of course, an essential part of the preparation stage is lesson planning. An effective lesson plan can determine the level of efficiency accomplished in a lesson. That is why a great deal of time and effort goes into planning an inspirational lesson. A good lesson plan should include interesting resources, required materials, and a justified pace. Judge carefully the time it will take to explain a topic, get feedback from students, and perform a task or activity.
Also, include in your plan, the time it takes to transition between task to the next. All too often, teachers make the mistake of planning a lesson based only on each separate section of the lesson, eliminating conversion time. This results in stress for teachers and a confused rush for students, while the teacher is seen trying to quicken towards wrap up while making sure nothing is missed out.
While a class full of children can never be predicted in terms of efficiency, these tips are a few things you can turn to when you feel you want to tweak your existing strategy to manage classroom time more efficiently. Teachers struggling to manage time INSIDE the classroom may find it useful to study the way they utilize their time OUTSIDE the classroom as well.
The way a teacher prioritizes personal tasks the rest of the day has a direct effect on the way he/she will conduct classroom functions. This blog contains some practical insights on what teachers need to be careful about while planning their days and weeks, in order to ensure productivity during lessons.