Strategy 3.12: Maximize and Restructure Time to Meet Students’ Needs. Teachers take full advantage of the allotted time for each of their classes. They think strategically about how to structure their classes so that the period is used most profitably. In addition, they work outside of their own classes with the larger school staff to explore alternative ways of scheduling to better meet student needs.
Teachers and ELL/immigrant students alike often struggle with the traditional structure and scheduling of the typical comprehensive secondary school, which may result in strict departmentalization among content areas, teacher isolation, and lower status for ELL students and teachers (Ruiz-de-Velasco & Fix, 2000). Students come and go every 50 minutes or so, based on a rigid, inflexible system of bells. Time for learning is sliced neatly into six or seven distinct subjects, each with its own slot. Teachers see a succession of groups of 25 to 35 students passing through each class—as many as 125 to 150 students each day.
Some schools are attempting to address the disconnectedness of this pervasive system by instituting such innovations as block scheduling, rotating schedules, career academies, and other strategies aimed at making education more cohesive and meaningful. Structural changes to the school day can play an important role by providing longer blocks of time (90 minutes or two hours) for teachers to instruct in the in-depth ways they so often covet (Olsen & Jaramillo, 2000).
Even a radical restructuring of time does not ensure that class time is well spent. Close examination of many secondary classrooms reveals wasted minutes, time ill spent on taking attendance, and a general lack of urgency about the preciousness of each moment. Newly arrived second-language learners often find themselves at odds with this kind of schooling, which is already less structured and formal than that of their homes. Thoughtful teachers (no matter what the schedule) seek ways to manage their classrooms so that every minute is used to maximum advantage.
Time-conscious teachers create clear classroom expectations about the use of time. They begin class as soon as the bell rings and do not stop until the last possible minute. They often begin class with the same procedure or routine, so that students always know what materials they need, where to look for instructions, and how long they have to complete each task. For example, a language arts teacher might routinely begin with a journal topic written on the overhead projector. Students know that they need to record the topic and date by the time the bell rings, and that they have 10 minutes to complete this first task. Math teachers might begin with a set of problems that reviews a previous concept. Free reading is another way to open the period with an academic focus. (See also Strategy 3.10.)
Routines for retrieving and storing materials, moving from one activity to another, and moving from pair to group to individual work help reduce wasted time. Students do not have to wonder how to accomplish the routine, and they know they are expected to complete it promptly. Explicit teacher modeling of tasks also reduces the amount of time students must spend getting started. When teachers invest instructional time showing “This is what it looks like” and “This is what it sounds like,” students are more likely to get busy right away.
Careful attention to task assignments within cooperative groups helps all students work toward completion in a timely fashion. This means that each member of the group must have an important, carefully defined role to fill, reducing the possibility that one or more members will simply relax and let the others do all the work.
Another way of looking at time receives less attention and is often overlooked. Teachers need to anticipate ways of ensuring that students are actively engaged for as much of each period as possible. For instance, a whole class might have their books open to page 24; the teacher calls on individual students to read; and it appears that just about everyone is following along in the text. But how does the teacher really know that the act of following is not merely mechanical? Without evidence of engagement, many students may simply be pretending to pay attention, and are really thinking about the upcoming dance, the fight they had this morning with their brother, or the fact that they’re hungry, and when will this class be over, anyway?
Evidence of active student engagement is the most powerful tool that teachers have to maximize their use of time. That evidence can take many forms. During instructional time, students are saying and doing many things, always with the idea that something specific can be pointed to as evidence of engagement. It can be as simple as, “Turn and tell your partner . . .” or as complex as “You have just taken notes on this minilecture (five minutes maximum). Now, in the right-hand column, write a few questions about what you have just heard.”
Ensuring that students are actively engaged in any reading process can take the form of reciprocal teaching, responding to text through a reading log, or any method that forces students to periodically make public their understanding of what is being studied. Time-conscious teachers effectively manage not only the surface aspects of time use (such as routines and starting and ending at the bell) but also consider how they can determine student engagement.
Mr. Malabonga, a mentor teacher, has spent his preparation period observing various teachers to find some good models for managing classrooms. Several new teachers are struggling with issues of classroom management, especially the wise use of time and expectations for how students use time. Mr. Malabonga plans to conduct joint observations of the good teachers with the new teachers, knowing that they can profit from seeing specific behaviors of good teachers.
On this day, Mr. Malabonga stops to visit Ms. Bart, a teacher widely respected by teachers and students alike. As he watches her teach, he jots down what he will highlight when he returns to do the joint observations with the new teachers:
• Procedures for individual, pair, and group work are clearly posted. She refers to the posters frequently to remind students of her expectations.
• Class begins at the bell. Students are in their seats, already working on the warm-up assignment, when the bell rings. Ms. Bart spends this time explaining to a new student the expectations for beginning class, including where to keep his journal, how the journals are passed out, and how they are to be put away. She quietly monitors the progress of the class members as they work.
• When students move to a new kind of group project, she clearly directs them concerning where, how, and when to move. Each student in the group has a clearly defined role, and the group has a clearly defined time limit to complete the task.
• Ms. Bart uses a variety of methods to ensure that all students are actively engaged. She even uses such terms as, “I need to see that your brain is engaged.” Part of the new group project requires that the group brainstorm a topic. As students brainstorm, each member is required to repeat what the other students say, and each is required to write it down.
• Ms. Bart and the students work until one minute before the bell rings.