Although you may think of workload as the tasks you must complete outside of your time with students, how you spend your time in class directly impacts that workload. By effectively managing your instructional time, you can reduce the work you must do the rest of the day (or evening). The following are suggestions for how to maximize time in the classroom. If you’ve been reading the other articles in this collection, you will likely notice some overlap as our classroom activities directly impact our other responsibilities.
This goes back to the article about grading. As much as possible, provide students with feedback during class time rather than assigning homework and correcting it after hours. Dr. Catlin Tucker is a strong proponent of using blended learning strategies as a way to make this feedback and grading loop happen at school.
As alluded to in point one, blended learning can allow you to provide feedback in class, and station rotation is a perfect example of this. Creating a teacher station in your rotation, allows you to see each student individually or in a small group each day. This valuable time together lets you get a pulse on their progress, provide personalized feedback, and differentiate more easily due to the smaller group size. If you can complete these essential instructional tasks in a station, you can save planning and correcting time outside class.
Like station rotation, integrating playlists into your lesson can free you up to work with students individually or in small groups. Playlists also allow you to offer differentiated tasks for each student (or for similar groups of students). While these learning progressions do take some time to create, your initial time investment can pay dividends the more often you use them. If you take time now, you can make time later. Additionally, if you help your students understand their levels and learning preferences, they can help guide their progress and path through the playlist you create.
It may seem counterintuitive to record a lecture ahead of time when you can just present it live. However, having a collection of flipped lessons provides many dividends beyond the initial instruction. First, using these recordings as in-class flipped lessons allows you to facilitate playlists and station rotation more easily as the recordings allow students to learn more independently, freeing you up to meet with students who need extra help and support. This makes differentiation and intervention more achievable. Second, flipped videos also help you better manage make-up work and reteaching. Again, the initial investment of time can save you time later.
It’s important not to overuse self-paced software. Students need to collaborate and interact with one another on a regular basis. However, software packages do several things very well. They assess quickly and efficiently, differentiate automatically, and allow students to learn independently. These are all significant benefits. Software also integrates nicely into playlists and stations. It’s a good solution for guiding students through basic, foundational skills that are easily automated. For instance, language arts teachers might have students work through a grammar unit online, so they can spend more time coaching individual students through the writing and revision process, which requires more nuanced human feedback and conversation. In this example, teachers use software for low-level work and face-to-face learning opportunities for higher-level thinking experiences.
If you have assistants in your classroom, be intentional about how you use them. You might have an assistant help students at a station, or you could have them work with a few students who need a differentiated approach or extra support. Assistants are not there to replace you, but they can provide you with an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands in the classroom. Think about how you can maximize their impact.
If your school has an instructional coach, take advantage of it. These instructional experts can provide a fresh set of eyes and ears in your classroom and provide feedback and suggestions for improving the efficiency of your lessons. In fact, most instructional coaches will plan and teach a lesson with you, collaboratively seeking efficiencies and solutions for instruction in your classroom. In a career that is too often isolating, this professional collaboration can be powerful and provide you with both support and new insights. This process might take a little extra time initially, but there is a good chance the strategies you discover will help you become more efficient in the future.
Managing classroom behavior can take away valuable time from your lesson. If your school has a strong, unified behavior management plan, lean into it. By having expectations consistent with the rest of your school, you will be able to leverage common expectations and have an easier time getting students to both understand and accept those standards. Using a schoolwide plan will also save you the time of reinventing something for your classroom. Less time managing behaviors allows you to spend more time facilitating learning.