TECHNIQUE #31: Every Minute Matters
The concluding section for Chapter 6, Pacing, is not just a summary; it does contain some very useful tips and tricks. Every Minute Matters, represents the under lying premise to so many of the techniques and concepts presented in Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹; countless examples of how many minutes can be saved (and, wasted) are explicitly pointed out in the text. Saving and wasting time are huge ethical and fiscal factors for not only teachers and administrators, but also, for tax payers and tuition paying parents. Are there ‘justifiable’ moments in the school day to ‘kill time’ or give students a little ‘down time’? Should teachers be held accountable for every lesson plan that is derailed by a fire drill, a need for a band-aid, for the student/s that just “don’t get it”? Here’s an example from the text that speaks volumes; I promise, you’ll feel guilty after you read it.
“…We blithely give away the last few minutes of class, saying, “We don’t have time to start anything new” or “We worked so hard, so I’m giving you guys a few minutes to relax”. Let’s say this kind of thinking applies to just the last four minutes of class. That adds up to roughly twelve and a half hours of “last few minutes” during each of perhaps six classes in each school year. If you did that every day, you’d give away seventy-five hours of instruction-several weeks of school. Or think of it this way: if you had a student whose success was absolutely critical and you were entrusted with her progress, you would never dream of spending an hour long tutoring session doing nothing. But there’s not much difference between that wasted hour and the wasted hour in an unutilized “last two minutes of class” except that it’s spread across thirty students whose success is absolutely critical and and with whose progress you’ve been entrusted. Don’t let the diffusion across multiple classes and students fool you…”, (p.225)¹.
Every Minute Matters, evolves, like most of the other techniques, into several categories and strategies. I drew a metric ton of smiley faces in the margins in this section so there must be some good food for thought here. I like the inspiration promoted in this section vis a vis taking advantage of unusual and ordinary moments in the school day for learning. We’re encouraged to start seeing downtime everywhere. Think of these as Time Saving Coupons.
- While You Were Waiting: Don’t just stand there and watch! Have a list of questions, aligned with the topic at hand. On a daily basis we call students to the board to demonstrate their knowledge or solve problems. This is a great tactic to get students up and moving and an opportunity to “showcase” their skills. However, as teachers, we’ve all watched students, some not so promptly, approach the board, hem and haw, go back to their desk to get their worksheet, deliberate and erase their not so perfect handwriting etc. If you have a group of students at the board, some post their responses more quickly than others…while you and the rest of the class, wait and watch, watch with anticipation or with dimming attention spans; guilelessly wasting precious time. Use this time to ask the remaining seated students some quick, targeted questions. This let’s the student/s at the board become more aware that they need to be efficient, the class continues on while they’re writing and also informs the students that time is valuable, “we are going to continue to learn even though students are at the board showing their work”. This is also applicable to when you ask students to hand out materials, worksheets, waiting for a page on the Internet to load etc. Don’t just stand there and wait!
- Back Pocket Questions & Activities: Mastering Every Minute Matters means being prepared for “downtime”. Back Pocket Activities are “high energy reviews of what your students have learned”, informal pop-quizzes or challenge problems. “Downtime” can threaten your minutes at any moment. Here are some unexpected and quirky moments to use Back Pocket Activities.
- Minutes at the end of class
- ‘Flag Pole Fun’ when you’re outside for a fire drill
- Waiting for buses
- In line at the cafeteria, ‘Cafeteria Trivia’
- “Packing up backpacks at the end of the day is a great opportunity for reading aloud from an inspiriting novel.”(p226).
- Motivational Reading: This is a theme, in and of itself, always have a “class” book or novel ready, an impromptu Shel Silverstein poem, an MLK Jr. speech, lyrics to a popular song to be read as a Shakespearean sonnet, etc. Use your best accent.
- Hallway Pepper: “There’s no better way to keep kids engaged while lining up for the next class than by peppering them with multiplication problems or mental math….Squandered time kills momentum.” Here’s a video clip of Jamey Verilli, in the hallway, executing ‘Hallway Pepper’, before class begin at North Star Academy:
“…almost everything we’ve ever learned in the end [of a lecture, last scene in a movie], in minute. There was an extra minute of reflection, practice, explanation, or discussion that pushed us over the top and perfected our skill or knowledge. There’s no reason to believe that the profunidity of the learning has to correlate to the glamour, predictability , and formality of the setting.”, (p.227)¹.
- Agenda Forward: Post the agenda for the day, or an agenda for that class’ particular list of tasks. Students will be more aware of the number of tasks that they will want to work through and it creates an atmosphere of deliberate time management.
- Look Forward: These are “Mystery Activities” with a lot of hype involved on the part of the teacher. Planned well enough, the “buy in” on the students part should come easily; the higher the quality, the greater the anticipation. If students come to consistently know your “off time” activities are challenging, they’ll welcome the opportunity to show off, off the record. This is great momentum, in my opinion, to teach the value of intrinsic learning. Have “Mystery Activities” planned in advance:
- True to life, biography, behind the scenes video clips about a current in class topic or author. Keep them short. Show more later, in increments.
- Pod cast/music (listening challenges); have an audio segment cued up for students to listen (only) to; based on current topic, era, lecture. Announce it as: “This is a little advanced, but based on what you guys know, I bet you can make a connection”.
- Sample problems/worksheets from an upper level text: Announce to the class that the “mystery” will be revealed after they solve the items. Conclude by congratulating them for completing a task that was meant for an upper/advanced level.