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Daylight Savings Time is a practice I don’t understand. In the spring it costs an hour. Time is precious and something I hate to waste. Every year I dread the clocks springing forward and watching precious time being taken away. I read an article recently published on Edutopia about “Beating the Clock in the Classroom” and I got to thinking about wasted time in my elementary room.
We have little control over our schedules and as educators we are used to having this time dictated to us. There is always more to teach than available classroom minutes. We always need more time to finish a unit, complete a project, or reteach concepts. So, what are we doing wasting time? The time I seem to waste in my classroom can be targeted to these areas: repeating, repeating, repeating directions; transitions; housekeeping tasks such as collecting paperwork, handing out Band-Aids and the constant restroom questions; and make-up work. These areas come down to two things: classroom management and organization. So, what can be done to keep learning time?
Repeating, repeating, repeating directions: Classroom management and expectations set up the rules for running a classroom. We invest time in the beginning of the year so students know what to expect, what the routines are, and teach them how to manage the things they can be responsible for. Periodically, however, it is just as important to revisit your expectations. When returning from long breaks, such as Christmas and Spring Break, spend a little time reviewing the foundation you established in the beginning of the year. Remember to slow down, restate expectations, and model what you expect your students to do during transitions and routines.
I have two rules about this in my classroom that students learn and practice. My first rule is I give multiple step directions (fourth graders can handle this) and when I am done I say, “GO!” After spring break I reviewed this expectation. I reminded the students I give all the directions at once, they should be looking at me and thinking about what I am saying, and when I am ready for them to work I say “GO!” The expectation is they listen and then do as they are asked. Second, I type the directions and display them on the Smartboard or write them on the whiteboard in simple terms. When students ask what they should do I simply point to the board. They are always welcome to check with a friend, but this allows me to focus my time on teaching and allows me to assist students who are working. I don’t use precious time to repeat directions.
Transitions: This can become a black hole of time in an elementary classroom. I give my students a time expectation for getting supplies gathered and ready when we start a subject. “I will be ready to teach (insert subject or topic here) in 2 minutes.” Students are expected to get out all journals, folders, and books every time we have the subject so their supplies are always ready. We don’t use everything every day, but it is important to be prepared. Consequences come when they have to give me their time back for wasting my learning time. This time comes from recess. It does not take long for students to see being prepared pays off. I also have extra items available such as pencils, crayons, scissors, and glue. If students “can’t find my (insert lost item here)” then they know to go get that item from the back of the classroom. I have one extra copy of papers they keep in their desk for this purpose as well. This time saved can be spent engaged in classroom discussion and working on meaningful activities. Find your way out of the black hole of transition.
Housekeeping tasks: An elementary teacher can spend half of the day on tasks such as collecting paperwork, returning paperwork, checking out new injuries, handing out Band-Aids, and monitoring the traffic to the bathroom. I have a few tips and tricks I have found useful to drastically cut down on wasted time for these housekeeping tasks.
If students can pass out or collect papers then they are given that task. I also leave stacks at the end of the rows and students (learned during the beginning of the year and reviewed in classroom routines) know to leave the papers alone until they are asked to pass them. This allows me to teach and talk while passing out papers. If we are leaving the room after a subject, the students’ paperwork will become the ticket out. This allows for them to clean up and it also allows me to keep working with students who need further assistance while clean-up is done. At the door the papers are left in the file or on the table. These may seem like small items, but any minute you can save is a minute you can use for learning.
Outside of the classroom is a huge world and it seems to have a beacon heard only by children calling them to the bathroom and nurse. To combat this and keep them in the classroom, engaged, I have a few supplies. Beside the classroom sink I keep Band-Aids in a red pencil box. You need one, you get one. It is as simple as that. In my desk drawer I have a jar of Vaseline and a box of Q-tips. This can be handed out for dry lips or if students feel they need something on a small injury. We as teachers know most of these are self-inflicted scab picks anyway. I have a bottle of lotion for dry hands that I keep on my desk as well. I have found these few inexpensive items buy me the gift of time on a daily basis as students stay in the classroom instead of tripping down to see the nurse.
I also have a sign out sheet with date, name, time left and time returned (helpful for practicing time skills) on a clipboard for bathroom trips. This creates accountability and allows patterns to be seen in case there are frequent flyers who are hearing that beacon for social calls, not nature calls. Students can use the sign for bathroom (twist right hand back and forth in the shape of ASL “T”). This allows for them to ask to use the bathroom without interrupting others. I don’t allow them to leave the room unless it is their work time. Just a little bit of TLC provided will keep them learning and allow students to take care of their own needs instead of using classroom time to request and plead to leave the room.
Make-up work: When students are gone or don’t complete work it creates even more work for teachers. I have a graphic organizer I have copies of that gives a space for each classroom subject. At the top are the date and my name. If a student is gone, I have a responsible student fill in the work for the day in each block as we do assignments. They can write page numbers and a general description of the activity. If we do something I am posting to our classroom blog they write, “See blog”. I also ask neighbors to get out books for absent students. This allows me to quickly make a pile and tear out worksheets to add to their assignment stack. At the end of the day I can quickly make a copy of the assignment sheet (if multiple students are gone) and then have a stack for students when they return or if parents request homework.
Missing work is the time – of a teacher’s life. I have found keeping a list of work that is out (listed by classroom number assigned at the beginning of the year) helps me track this and hold students accountable. When picking papers up I quickly put them in classroom number order (or if it is their ticket out they are often already in order). This allows me to quickly identify who has missing work and take a peek at those notorious kiddos who hand in work unfinished. In past years I have had this listed on an old “Wanted” poster. This year it is in our command center (Superhero theme) on the “Jobs Out” board. Find a system that works for you will help cut down on time spent hunting down late work.
Time is a funny thing. It flies when you are having fun, it drags when you are waiting, and it is taken from us in small, unexpected ways. As you start the last leg of the school year take a look at where you can gain small amounts of time to stretch out the end of your school year. Take an honest look at your classroom management and organization to review and simplify so you can enjoy every teachable minute possible with your kids.