Instructional Practices

Maximizing Instructional Time in the Classroom

8 Min Read
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It can be a challenge to meet all your teaching goals and each student’s needs during the course of a single day, which makes time management skills a key priority for educators. Lost time in the classroom can accumulate, resulting in numerous minutes that could have been spent in purposeful and productive routines and impactful learning time.

Make the most of your time with your students by streamlining routines and implementing a few other strategic life hacks in the classroom.

How to Maximize Instructional Time in the Classroom: 8 Strategies

1. Use Technology Effectively to Save Time

One of the best strategies for maximizing instructional time in the classroom is to incorporate technology wisely into your curriculum. Since it’s impossible to clone ourselves and be in all places for all students at once, technology can help reduce some of the burden.

A learning management system (LMS) can help you automate tasks such as grading, creating rubrics and quizzes, setting up interactive discussion boards, and providing feedback to students. Many teachers use tools for storing, sharing, and collaborating on files. There are also many organizational and time tracking apps to help you avoid distractions, decrease procrastination, and meet your goals. (Be sure to check out how the HMH learning platform connects with common LMSes!)

Many EdTech programs designed for students offer rich, real-time insights and data that can help teachers spot instances in which students may be struggling and provide appropriate intervention. Programs such as Waggle, for example, are designed to deliver targeted practice to every student.

2. Set Purposeful and Consistent Routines

Arrival, dismissal, and transition times can be particularly chaotic. Setting up clear routines and communicating your expectations clearly can help you to manage your day and save valuable time.

We spoke with Kate Lee, a fifth-grade teacher at the Thomas Fleming School in Essex Junction, Vermont, who emphasizes that “purposeful and consistent routines and expectations that are well taught keep the day running smoothly and efficiently.”

Many educators, such as Brittany Mamphey and David Jamison, do welcoming check-ins by greeting students at the classroom door with a friendly hello or a personalized greeting. This is also a helpful way to assess if a student seems unhappy or distracted. Mamphey also suggests having students practice transitions, such as lining up for lunch and recess, to ensure they’ll go smoothly every time.

One idea to alert students to an upcoming transition is to use hand signals or sound cues. For example, try three quick claps to bring the class to attention. Students can immediately mimic you with three quick claps of their own, indicating that they are ready to line up at the door at your next cue. Students can also use hand signals to indicate that they need a pencil or a bathroom break, as described by teacher Jodi Durgin.

“Purposeful and consistent routines and expectations that are well taught keep the day running smoothly and efficiently.”

Kate Lee

Fifth-Grade Teacher, Thomas Fleming School, Essex Junction, Vermont

3. Flip Your Classroom

It’s not a new concept, but it is an effective strategy for instructional time management. In this teaching model, students use time at home to watch recorded lectures and videos and explore material, while the time in class is reserved for meaningful, face-to-face interaction. This allows students to spend an hour or more of “homework time” to absorb material at their own pace—which might otherwise take a valuable chunk of time out of the school day.

In this type of blended learning model, “homework” becomes “classwork,” with the ability for students to test out theories they’ve learned the night before, ask questions of the teacher and their peers in real time, and practice skills through hands-on activities and exploration. By eliminating the need for students to sit and spend an hour in class time reading, watching a video, or listening to the teacher explain a concept, the flipped classroom can maximize learning by allowing students to delve deeper.

4. Use “Breakout Rooms”—in Real Life

Sometimes, it’s not necessary to require the whole group to sit still and focus when, for example, each student comes to the front of the room to deliver a finished presentation. If you have 30 students, this experience could easily stretch over multiple class periods!

Breakout rooms are effective over webcam when you want small groups to put their heads together and solve a problem collaboratively, workshop their ideas together, or share their work with their peers. Apply the same technique to your in-class teaching by breaking the class into smaller groups of four to five students (tip: to reduce the noise that may come with moving around and forming groups, consider putting tennis balls on the bottom of chairs and desks). Have each group work independently, then return to a whole-group setting. Then, have a volunteer from each breakout group report back on what they discovered and shared.

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5. Assign Problems for Quality, not Quantity

Do you really need to see 20 iterations of the same math problem to know if a student is getting a concept? Instead, allow students to choose 5–10 of the problems on the page, then check their work. Even just one rich, real-world problem can be way more instructive than a whole page full of drill-and-kill practice. If they nailed every problem, send them off to a new task. If they need more practice, they can return to the worksheet—or you can incorporate an intervention program such as Math 180 or skills practice through a supplemental program such as Waggle. Having every student sit and complete the same worksheet will bore the students who’ve already mastered the material and frustrate those who haven’t. Students who need more skills practice can get what they need, while those who don’t can make the best use of their class time by moving on to the next project.

6. If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It

You probably have several staple lessons that always resonate with students, especially if you’ve been teaching for a while. If you’ve “found gold” in a lesson that always delivers successful results, don’t trash it just because you feel the pressure to bring in the latest and greatest idea. While updating your lessons and infusing them with new knowledge and creativity is a worthy goal, it will take more time to explain and teach something brand new than something tried and true.

When you introduce a new lesson or activity and find that it works well, make it a regular part of your teaching routine to maximize learning. Repeat the format of the activity on a weekly basis so that students grow to expect it and know what they need to do.

7. Provide a Visual and Written Backup for Your Instructions

Imagine that you spend 10 minutes verbally explaining the procedure for what students are expected to do next. Invariably, a few students sheepishly confess that they either weren’t listening or didn’t fully understand what you said. If you have to repeat the entire litany, everyone’s time is being wasted. To avoid this outcome, take brief pauses during your verbal instructions to do a quick check-in: Is everyone listening? Do some students seem distracted? In addition, provide a written list of bullet points that cover the steps students need to follow—you can share these online as well as post them on the whiteboard.

Better yet, give students a pictorial “map.” For example, if you’re having them conduct a science experiment, display an image of the items they’ll need to collect, then an image of the workstation where they’ll test out their hypothesis, then an image of the online worksheet where they’ll record their conclusions. This at-a-glance guideline will save time and help students to be efficient. (You don’t need to have artistic skills; clip art or photos will suffice!)

8. Three Before Me

Students can be very self-reliant when you give them the opportunity. Try the “three before me” technique to encourage students to think critically about questions they have: They should try to find three other sources of information on their own for their questions. They could ask a classmate, consult a library book, or do some internet research. If they are still stumped, help them with their questions, and explore with them why their fact-finding mission may not have been successful. Were they asking the right questions? This student-centered technique for making the most of your instructional time builds independence and confidence.

When it comes to mastering instructional time in the classroom, Cheila Mosa, a teacher with whom we spoke at Tuckahoe Middle School in New York, refers to a quote she has hanging on her wall: “The best part of teaching is that it matters…the hardest part of teaching is that it matters every day.” Hopefully, these strategies will help you make your teaching matter even more by making every moment count!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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