There is an interesting paradox of time in education. We know that when students develop noncognitive skills and executive functions they more successfully engage with and learn the content we are teaching. Yet, as teachers, we are hired to teach the content of our courses and have very little time for anything else. Or do we?
I wish I had a quarter for the number of times a teacher said they knew they needed to give students practice employing skills like goal setting, retrieval practice, metacognitive strategies, time and task management, study skill, organizational skills, to name a few, but only did so on occasion when, or if, they found time. The trouble is, just like any skill, these noncognitive factors take routine practice to develop a working competency. Being exposed to them once or twice on occasion is never enough. There is something we can do about being short on time.
In 2007, Elena Silva with Education Sector, released an interesting report called On The Clock: Rethinking The Way Schools Use Time. In her report she defines 4 types of school time and notes that students spend the least amount of time in academic learning. However, the decades of research she compiled clearly proves that students are more successful when they spend more of the school day engaged in instructional and academic Learning time as opposed to adding more time to the school day. Therefore, it is how we use the time we are allocated that matters most, not necessarily how much time we are given.
By creating consistent and predictable learning routines we save a ton of instructional and academic learning time. I like to ask teachers to complete a simple math problem, “Assuming a school year of 180 days, how many hours are wasted if the teacher takes just 1 minute to engage students once class begins?” Give it a try. You got it, 3 hours. 1 minute routinely wasted over the course of a school year adds up to 3 hours of lost instructional and/or academic learning time. That is why routines are so important for learning, and they exist whether they are effective or not. We can either paint the gray areas in our lessons black and white we get those precious hours back or we can let minutes pass as we start class. Both routines, the choice is ours what we implement.
The answer to the paradox of time in education is found in the routines we establish to facilitate learning. There is one caveat if we are going to solve the paradox, our learning routines must give students practice employing the noncognitive skills and executive functions that research has shown are the foundation for academic success. By doing so, our students, by virtue of participating in learning, will feel safer, they will have more time for learning, as they develop competency with the skills and habits that are the hallmark of successful learners.
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