Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Oh My Gosh! It's Later Than I Thought!

Oh my gosh! It’s later than I thought!

My husband likes to tease me by saying that if I ever got a tattoo, it would say: “Oh my gosh! It’s later than I thought!”

its later than i thought.png

(It would look sweet tattooed around my wrist, in lieu of an actual watch, right?)

I admit, I lose track of time a lot. I can be eating breakfast and all of a sudden -- Oh my gosh! It’s later than I thought! It’s time to leave and I still have to find my keys and my other shoe!

It happened a lot in my classroom a lot, too. I was always behind in my lesson plan or behind in my pacing because everything took longer than I thought.

Because of the “it’s later than I thought” phenomenon, I got behind on my pacing every year. Every single year, my final unit of the year from a three week plan to a two-day fly-by lesson.

Five minutes here and ten minutes there can really add up! If you mean for your bellwork to take five minutes but it really drags on to ten minutes every day (and it doesn’t need to take ten minutes), that’s 15-25 minutes a week! That’s an hour every month. That’s ten hours of instruction time a year. That adds up to two weeks of instruction time over the course of a year.

So, in an effort to tighten up lessons, to stay on pace, and to tighten up classroom management, I offer this “brilliant” advice:

Use a timer. All the time.

I know, I know. That sounds completely obvious. And pretty anti-climactic. But hear me out....

Timers can help us accomplish everything we need to accomplish. They can keep us stay on track. They can also help us gauge student understanding. They can help us craft more focused, multi-part lessons.

Timers can change your life!

Why I didn’t use them when I was in the classroom? I used the clock! I told my kids how much time they had for each activity! Isn’t that enough?

In a word, no.

If I went back to the classroom now, I would use a timer displayed every day for just about every activity. I might use a cool one from Online Stopwatch (at http://www.online-stopwatch.com/classroom-timers/) on my projector. I might use a cheap dollar-store digital timer, set down on my ELMO projector. I might use one that is an app on the SMARTboard.

Kids don’t need to look at the clock and do the math every few minutes. They need a countdown clock. They need to see, at any moment, how much time they have left in whatever activity they’re doing.

Kids need to be held accountable for staying on task. They need to know that they can’t drag their feet and dawdle and get out of the next part of your lesson by pretending to need more time. They need to know they can’t talk about the movies for twenty minutes and then write down the answers when you go over it.

Kids need timers to help them stay on track. Of course, as a teacher, you will always circulate during the timed activity, helping kids who need it, checking for thoughtful answers and correct responses and on-task behavior.

But I would use it frequently during a class period. Here are some ways.
  • As soon as the bell rang, I would set my classroom timer for five or seven minutes in which bellwork must be completed. I wouldn’t let bellwork drag on for 10 or 15 minutes like I often did while I was taking attendance or checking the ABC list or letting my kids ask for pencils 5 minutes into the bellwork.
  • I, personally, have the tendency to talk a lot. (I know -- those of you who know me are SHOCKED at this revelation!) I would set the timer for any teacher-talk that is more than giving directions. Mini-lecture? Set a timer. Modeling the strategy? Set a timer. I need to hold myself accountable and not ramble or beat the dead horse. I need to stay focused. I set a timer for myself to equalize out our class, so they know I am accountable for getting things done in a reasonable amount of time, just like they are.
  • I would time every turn-and-talk. Those could go on for a long time if I let them. I have a (good) habit of circulating the class and listening to each set of kids talk and asking them about their turn and talk. Meanwhile, the other ten groups in my class have started talking about TV or Taylor Swift or something. Two minutes is my default, but you can adapt depending on the task or topic.
  • Time each major activity. Give the kids an appropriate amount of time for each. Each time to read, each group discussion, each written response, should have a timer to help you and your students stay engaged.
  • Use a timer to gage student understanding. Don’t let the time drag on while you wait to see if kids understood the topic. Don’t let ten or twenty minutes go past before kids tell you that they don’t understand something. Set the timer for five minutes, check how they’re doing after that five minutes before you let them move on to the rest of the activity.

I’m not unreasonable. Obviously, if your kids genuinely need more time, please adjust accordingly. Call a “timeout” and reteach. Add extra minutes to the timer when necessary.  I would NEVER tell you to move on if your kids aren’t done or aren’t understanding the content. BUT on the other hand, if they’re goofing around because they know you will let them have another twenty minutes, then tighten up your times.

Some of us will be amazed at how much time we save when we use timers to tighten up our class time. Some of us will be amazed at how the on-task behavior changes when we use timers to keep kids accountable.

And, to be fair, some of us will be amazed that the rest of the world doesn’t already do this. I wish I was a person who had been using timers forever.

I have observed in more classrooms in the past six years than I can count -- middle school and high school, veteran teachers and first year teachers, men and women, north county and south county. One thing I have noticed across the board is this: teachers who use timers regularly, who set specific time goals and then follow up or adapt as needed, teachers who don’t lose track of time -- those teachers cover more ground and cover it more effectively than those who don’t.

So try using timers on your bellwork, your reading, your teacher-talk time, or your activity. Adapt and be flexible, as needed.

Then, drop me an email and let me know if you notice any differences in your pacing, content coverage, or behavior management! I love to hear how it goes!

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