A few years ago I witnessed the worst high school class ever!
I was sitting in the back of a classroom somewhere in the Mid-West. The school had implemented Organized Binder and I was there for a Follow-Up Session to meet with the staff and offer support. I watched in horror as the teacher took 20 minutes to start class. However, what intrigued me was that his students knew his routine and knew they had 20 minutes to waste before class actually began. With this knowledge students did various things: some showed up late, some did work from other classes, others slept, but the vast majority of students chatted...loudly. I left that class certain of one thing, the reason there was so much time wasted was the direct result of what the teacher was doing, not the students.
How long does it take for a typical class at your school to become academic? Meaning, if one were to sit in the back of the classroom with a stopwatch, at what point would the majority of students in the classroom be engaged in what Elena Silva calls “Academic Learning Time”? The response I usually get when I ask this question is anywhere from 1-5 minutes. On rare occasion I hear 1-2 minutes, and once every blue moon I hear immediately.
If we, on average, see students 180 days each school year and it takes one minute for the class to become academic then we are wasting 3 hours of class time per year. I am not talking about bad days when our students or we are just off and things move slowly but rather, I am referencing our classroom routines. Wasted minutes, which turn to wasted hours, are true of classroom transitions and the end of class as well (topics of subsequent posts). It is in these moments of wasted class time that classroom management issues grow and breed.
Elena Silva published a report in 2007 called On The Clock: Rethinking the Way Schools Use Time. She breaks school time in to four distinct types:
I want to focus on Instructional time and Academic learning time. She defined them this way; “Instructional time is the time devoted to formal instruction or learning, although much of that time may be lost to poor quality teaching and student inattention. Academic learning time is the time in which students are actually engaged in learning.”
Her report stresses decades of research findings which highlight the obvious, the more time students spend engaged in “Academic learning time” the higher their achievement. She poses that we do not need more time in the school day or even the school year, we just need to wisely use the time we have been given.
In order to apply this thinking to the beginning of class, we need to answer one question, “why is it that it takes so long to get class started?” Or in light of this report, “how can we engage students academically the moment the bell rings?” If we can, we will boost their achievement and likely reduce classroom manage infractions.
The answer lies in our routines. If it is ritual to waste three minutes to get class started then students will waste three minutes while you get class started. However, if it is ritual to begin class in a quiet, focused, academic manner mere seconds after the bell rings, then it is more likely that your class will start in a quiet, focused, academic manner mere seconds after the bell rings. The decision is ours but the routine needs to be crystal clear to students. What is more, the teacher must be able to hold students accountable for that expectation. Where we often run into trouble is that the expectations around our starting routine are cloudy and leave students guessing.
I urge you to try starting class with the Weekly Lifeline (Page B) (see below) or something like it, and mandate that all students write the Kick-Off prompt (warm-up) at the same time. Be sure your Kick-Off prompt engages students academically and is not a waste of time. Model this routine for your students every single class period. Tell them you expect that they are in their assigned seats with their binders open to the Weekly Lifeline with a writing utensil the moment the bell rings. Then, when the bell rings, pause for students to grow quiet, reveal the question, and begin class.
I propose that three things will eventually become culture in your class:
1. You will have students in Academic Learning Time seconds after the bell
2. You will not waste precious hours of class time
3. Classroom management issues will subside (at least at the start of class)
Thanks for reading and sharing,