I’ve worked in many school districts, and one of the common “look fors” administrators assess during your teaching evaluation is the efficiency of your instructional time. Are you wasting time? Are you using every instructional minute to support the learning standards?
Let me hop up on my soapbox to stand in support of wasting time-with intention.
I’ll be frank: One of my top time-wasting topics is food. From a cross-curricular standpoint, food and cooking provide me with terrific scientific, historical, and cultural talking points. In my middle school science classroom, we’ve discussed the challenges of baking at high altitudes, the rarity of salt in ancient times, and the fact that I never-in all of my time living in Germany-seen a German put ketchup on a bratwurst.
During my warm up time, students are engaging with me while opening their planners, finding my Google Classroom on their Chromebooks, and organizing their school supplies. For those students who struggle with transitions, this time is critical for organization and grounding in my classroom space. And I’m able to gauge the energy level, attitudes, and readiness of the learners in my classroom.
I can’t believe all of the things I’ve learned during warm ups. I’ve had not one, but two (!!) students share that their grandfathers were astronauts. Students have shared their excitement for upcoming road trips and visits to family members. Through warm up conversations, I’ve become aware of family struggles, homelessness, and divorces. But I’ve also learned when new babies were on the way in families and when a family bought their first home.
A warm up can be so much more than a conversation about my favorite types of street tacos (spoiler alert: I like all street tacos). These transitional conversations are gateways to learning in my classroom and to a trusting classroom environment.
Do you have a favorite classroom warm up? Let’s connect. Share it below and then read on for more strategic time-wasting ideas.
Have you ever had this happen? You’ve planned the best, most engaging lesson ever and halfway through class you realize that the students’ interest is waning? My strategy for getting the learning train back on the track is to start a cross-curricular conversation.
Planning ahead for a cross-curricular break in your lesson is easy. I use slide decks to organize my lessons. One benefit is that I can observe the pacing, instructional modes, and intensity of each lesson laid out on the slides. Find a spot in your lesson where you know students will need a break. Will they have been sitting for too long? Will your mini-lesson on sentence fragments actually be more of a mega-lesson? Are you having an assessment that day? Throw in a short, 3-5 minute video, engaging reading, or images to enliven your students.
Using current events to start these cross-curricular conversations is a great place to start. Read a poem by Amanda Gorman during a social justice unit, share a news story about a new Mars lander during your geometry lessons, or play a funny science song about photosynthesis during your ecosystems unit. These types of cross-curricular activities and topics can catalyze learning and may just wake your class up.
An additional activity, which is a little more time-consuming but will pay off in the long run, is to create discussion cards related to your learning targets. For example, I create seasonal discussion card sets that include facts about earth science, literature, and historical facts. Then, the process of discussing and speaking is a learning target, too, so using discussion cards provides me with several opportunities to add cross-curricular learning to my classroom.
Closing your classroom with intention is a great way to “waste time” in the classroom. I’ve closed with a standing circle time check in, questions about “peaks” (high points in the week) and “valleys”, and good old fashioned sticky note parking lots. Using that closing time to revisit the learning targets is an effective teaching technique that helps students build-and retain-understanding.
During “normal” school years, I’ve assigned weekly reflection sheets that included both academic and social-emotional questions. Do I grade these? No. Do I use them for academic data? No. From a meeting-the-standards standpoint, it’s a total waste of time. From a creating-a-safe-learning-environment, however, weekly reflection sheets provide me with important information about my students. Students have shared about living arrangements in two-household families, about their fears over not knowing where there family would live that night (“Mrs. C, which bus do I take when I’m homeless?”), and about their pride in finishing painting their bedrooms in a cool color.
Maybe we need to rethink wasting time. That time we spend transitioning students into our learning environment, talking with them, and reflecting on our weeks is too valuable to be “wasted.” Any objections to renaming it, “valuing time?”