Teaching and Time Management


Lindsey wonders about using her time wisely in the classroom:

Mystifying Question #1: How does one learn the art of time management?

I’m really bad at estimating how much time different activities/lessons will take. How can I conquer this important skill? What are some tips and tricks for making the most out of the limited amount of class time I have with my students?

I try not to give my students an answer like “That’s something you’ll figure out when you’re teaching.”

But this is kind of a question that you’ll only be able to answer when you’re teaching. I am not sure there is a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes the same lesson plan will time out wildly differently in each class because there are so many other variables–interruptions that you can’t control; students asking questions; students not asking questions; students not understanding the material; students understanding very quickly; classroom management issues; etc.

One suggestion for all new teachers is to have a plan for what you will do if a lesson doesn’t time out as you expect. That is yet another reason I love workshop classrooms: students ALWAYS have something to do if they “finish” their assignment. There is always more reading, writing, and talking to do. The lesson you thought was going to take 50 minutes only takes 30? Time for independent reading or notebook work! Time for picking a couple of lines from your notebook to share in a read-around!

In my first years of teaching, I overplanned in abundance. I would write a week’s worth of lesson plans that would actually take more like four weeks to get through. Having too much gave me confidence that we wouldn’t have dead time when classroom management problems might arise. It never bothered me to “throw out” what I didn’t use. Overplanning was my crutch for years.

Now that I am a confident, experienced teacher, I know that less is more when it comes to lesson planning. I would much rather go deep than broad with students. I streamline: we read, we write, we talk. That’s it. I have a number of different strategies to help students find their way into the texts we read together; a number of different strategies to help students discover what they want to write about; and a number of different strategies to spark discussion.

I typically divide class into 3 segments: an opener of freewriting, independent reading, or poetry sharing; a mini-lesson on a reading or writing craft issue with time for guided practice; independent reading or writing time, perhaps focused on the topic of the mini-lesson, perhaps not. Ideally, I also try to end class with 5 minutes to spare so that students can share what they’ve been doing with the class, but in practice, I struggle to manage that.

In general, a healthy rule is to give students LESS time for assignments and teacher-directed activities than you think they need and MORE time for independent reading and writing than you think they need. If you give a worksheet thirty minutes, it will take thirty minutes. If you give it ten, students will complete it in ten. I try to be leisurely with time when there is more thinking and creating work happening, and I try to be stingy with time when we are doing skills work.

My final general comment about using time well is that kid-watching is probably the best cue for figuring out how long activities take. As your observation skills improve, you will become very adept at moving students through a class period giving just the right amount of time to each segment of class, but it does take time to figure out your own pacing as a teacher.

Here are a few other ways to maximize your time in the classroom with students:

Start class with the same meaningful activity every day. It’s easier to settle into class if there is a clear, predictable routine. Independent reading or freewriting time is a good way to incorporate a meaningful activity full of student choice. (DOL’s and many other examples of “bell work” are time wasters, not time maximizers.)

Don’t take attendance until students are working.

De-clutter the curriculum. What can you cut or condense to make room for what’s valuable?

Have supplies available and accessible for students. You shouldn’t have to waste time finding a pencil to loan a student.

Assign a student to pass back graded work or only pass back work when students are busy doing something else.

Have a designated time during class when it’s okay for students to use hall passes. That should not be during a time when you are giving direct instruction.

Create routines and procedures that streamline time spent getting materials and organizing students.

Pay attention to when and where the bottlenecks happen in your classroom, and develop a new procedure to address that.

Organize yourself. Have a folder for each class where you keep a copy of what you’re doing that day. Have a binder for each class where you file a copy of whatever you did in class, along with some brief notes on what worked, what didn’t, what you might do differently next time.

Make time for conversation. Don’t be so wedded to pushing through your lesson plan that you miss opportunities for meaningful talk, even if it’s about something tangential. You’re all people together. Remember to be a person.


One response to “Teaching and Time Management”

  1. […] education-focused online reading in my Sunday Salon post. I tackled Lindsey’s question about how to make the most of your time in the classroom. And I gushed about the first chapter of Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the […]

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