The greatest unintentional misuse of classroom learning time is rooted in the way in which we deliver whole group discussions in our lessons. I’m as guilty as many other teachers in filling the air unnecessarily with repeated instructions, answering the same questions over and over, getting off topic, going on tangents, and being unclear with initial expectations.
When having whole group discussions with students, our goal should be to communicate as clearly as possible within the shortest time needed to efficiently state expectations. Even though we all understand this to be a key element of great teaching practice, it is easy to fall into the trap of talking too long and throwing out too much information to our students.
However, the very best educators understand the critical importance of engineering their whole group discussions in a way that maximizes opportunities to get students busy and active for a long as possible in class. Without question there is sound pedagogical justification for slowing the class down and using up more time to have valuable and meaningful discussions with our students, but it is also imperative to not hold back the ones who understand expectations and are ready to get going with the task that you have assigned them with.
A simple yet highly effective strategy that helps to maximize the use of time and allow the students who understand to get on with their learning is to allow them to do so! Do we really need to hold these students back to sit and listen as we answer a bunch of questions from other students who need clarification of rules, expectations, and/or how to do something?
Could we instead make it common practice to release the students who already understand and want to get on with their learning and keep back those students who may have clarification questions. In doing so, we are honoring the students who are ready to move forward and honoring the students who need extra time to understand things more clearly. The end result is that no time is wasted.
A good friend and colleague of mine, Kristin Anson (http://princessartypants.blogspot.com/), is an excellent art teacher who has set up her teaching space in a way that maximizes the use of time in order to let her students get on with being artists. In her first classes of the new school year today, she introduced her ‘Art Studio Rules’ and cemented in there in the top spot was one of the best time management strategies there is:
'When I am giving directions listen quietly with your hands down. If you have a question, ask me after the rest of the class has gotten up to work.'
Establishing important classroom norms such as this works to build a consistent culture of letting students get on with their learning. It seems so simple, but as mentioned earlier in this blog, we are all guilty of mismanaging time and creating unnecessary obstacles to student learning.
How can you better engineer your classroom discussions to ensure that you are maximizing every opportunity possible for your students to get on with their learning? An important question to always think about if we are to have the impact that we desire on student learning in our programs. Thanks for reading.