By Andrew Hawk
Do you find yourself running out of time during lessons? All of us teachers have had lessons that got away from us. Sometimes this happens because students need more support than we originally estimated. Sometimes students purposely try to derail lessons. This is especially true if an unfinished lesson translates to no homework. Reasons aside, instructional time is too precious a resource to waste. Even a few minutes of wasted instructional time a day becomes hours wasted over the course of a school year. Maximizing instructional time helps students reach their full academic potential and helps teachers reach their goals relating to educational outcomes. Here are a few tips you can try if you find yourself running out of time on a regular basis.
1. Pretest Your Students
I write about pretesting a lot. It comes up often since the information gained from pretesting is useful in a variety of ways. In planning lessons, it’s useful because it lets you know if your students have the prerequisite skills to complete a lesson or an activity. If they do not, you are likely going to get stuck teaching a mini lesson about the needed skills and run out of time before you have taught everything in your lesson plan. When I taught fifth grade as a classroom teacher, this happened to me several times during science lessons. One lesson that comes to mind involved measuring the distance an object traveled. Most of my students needed reinforcement on how to measure distance. This nearly doubled my expected teaching time.
2. Build Times into Your Lesson Plans
Most teachers are not required to write detailed lesson plans once they have graduated from college. Be this as it may, all the teachers I have worked with have prepared some type of lesson plan prior to teaching. In the procedures portion of your lesson plans, estimate the time for completing each step of your lessons. If you do this regularly, your estimating abilities will improve.
3.Use a Timer
If you build times into your lesson plans but still regularly miss them, try using a timer while you are teaching. At times, I have even set the timer on my cell phone to vibrate and then put my cell phone in my pocket. Find a timer strategy that works for you and try it out.
4. Consider Dividing Your Lessons
My math methods professor stated in a lecture on lesson planning that it is safest to plan too much and then cut parts out of a lesson while teaching. By “too much,” she meant building in extension activities that could be removed without taking away from the lesson objectives. This way, teachers are not left trying to fill minutes on the fly. Since listening to her lecture, I have planned my lessons with this idea in mind. If you examine your lesson plans and find no part can be cut, you may want to consider splitting your objectives into more than one lesson and then adding some removable extension activities to each.
5. Limit Off-Topic Conversations
Most people who completed their precollege education in a public school can remember a teacher who could be steered off course. A question about the teacher’s weekend or maybe bringing up one of the teacher’s personal interests led to perhaps five to fifteen minutes of instructional time disappearing without a trace. I understand that these candid moments help teachers form bonds that make their classrooms successful. However, there must be a balance between letting students see you as a person and surrendering long periods of instructional time. Reflect on your current performance. If you find this is a problem for you, try to limit these off-topic interactions.
6. Avoid Student Monopolies
Every year there are students who try to monopolize a teacher’s time and attention. These students may be struggling learners, or they may enjoy positive adult attention. Either way, find ways to give these students what they need without letting them push your lesson over time. Find times during the day when you can meet with these students to tutor them or just spend a little time with them.
7. Practice Procedures and Routines
Do all your students know what to do when they enter your room? What if a student needs a pencil while you are in the middle of teaching? What if a student comes unprepared for class? It cannot be overstated that well-established procedures and routines save time and assist with classroom management.
8. Organize Materials
When I first transitioned to being a resource room teacher, I usually taught math and reading groups in twenty- or thirty-minute periods. A group of students would come to me, I would pass out their materials, and we would start the lesson. What I realized after a couple of months was that spending time passing out materials makes a big difference if your teaching time is only twenty minutes. I bought a set of student mailboxes and assigned one to each student. Prior to each group, I would place the day’s learning materials in the mailboxes. Students came into my room, grabbed the materials out of their mailboxes, and we would get started right away. Find a system that works best for you and save some time on passing out materials.
9. Plan for Interruptions
Have you ever had a lesson ruined by a fire drill? Does lunch ever run over at your school? When you are planning your lessons, consider what you will do if you are somehow interrupted. Will the bulk of your lesson have to be pushed into the next day? If so, is there a way you can minimize this to save instructional time? Even though interruptions are rarely a daily occurrence (I hope), effective lesson planners think through a plan B while they are planning.
10. Practice Read-Aloud Books
If your lessons call on you to read books or portions of books aloud to your students, always practice and time these ahead of the actual lesson. Some books can be deceiving in how long they take to read. This is especially true if you will have to pause to paraphrase or explain any part of the book.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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