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by Joyce McLeod, Jan Fisher and Ginny Hoover
Table of Contents
Until we can manage TIME, we can manage nothing else.
—Peter F. Drucker (1954)
The clock seems to manage every school day. The daily schedule is based on a variety of factors, such as state- or district-mandated time periods for a given subject, bus schedules, local school schedules for special classes, lunch periods, and teacher planning time. Wong and Wong (1998) describe four different types of school-day time:
According to research reported in Wong and Wong (1998), the typical teacher consumes 90 percent of allocated time. Yet the only way a student learns anything is by putting in effort—by learning to work.
In this chapter, we examine some basic daily schedules used in a variety of elementary, middle, and high school settings and look at ways to use this scheduled time to maximize instructional time. Time management is critical to student achievement and attitudes toward learning.
Elementary school schedules are generally determined by three factors: the number of instructional minutes for each subject area as mandated by the district or state; special class schedules, such as music, art, physical education, and library; and the overall school schedule as dictated by bus schedules, lunch times, and so forth.
Time frames for each subject area in the elementary grades vary according to grade level, but the largest block of the daily schedule is usually devoted to reading and language arts and the second largest block to mathematics. The remaining subject areas—science, social studies, health, music, art, and physical education—may have mandates for a certain number of minutes per day or week, but the schedule is usually left to the discretion of the local school if special teachers teach art, music, or physical education, or to each teacher or team of teachers for scheduling science, social studies, and health.
The school day for kindergarten is usually either a half-day or full-day program. Kindergarten schedules are therefore individualized within these time frames and developed according to the philosophy that guides the program. However, for some kindergarten classes (usually the full-day programs), the schedule is also driven by the overall school schedule for lunch, bus schedules, and special classes, such as music, art, and physical education.
One successful way of organizing the elementary school, and even the middle school, to make better use of instructional time is the practice of looping. In this approach, students remain with one teacher for two to three years—the teacher and the students get promoted together. According to Jim Grant, codirector of the National Alliance of Multiage Educators, teachers who loop have fewer transitions to make at the beginning of the school year and can introduce curriculum topics right a way. By allowing students and teachers to remain together, Grant says, looping buys time (Rasmussen, 1998). This extra time allows teachers to teach topics in greater depth and to better meet the needs of individual students.
Another organizational option in the elementary grades is the vertical team. In this configuration, one team of teachers teaches multiple grade levels in a “neighborhood” concept. The same children remain in the neighborhood with this team of teachers for a period of four to five years. Just as in the looping strategy, time spent getting to know students at the beginning of the year, teaching routines and procedures, and assessing each student's learning level are eliminated. Teachers have the benefit of knowing the students they will teach the following year; in addition, shared teacher planning and multigrade activities add richness to the curriculum. Students' individual needs are more easily met in this setting because materials for multiple grades are within reach, and the use of cross-grade grouping to meet individual needs is time efficient. The first day of school in a vertical-team neighborhood is a productive and comfortable day for both teachers and students as they return to a familiar environment.
Red Mountain Ranch School in Mesa, Arizona, is incorporating the nationwide concept of schools-within-a-school using vertical teams. See
for research findings on this organizational structure.
Middle and high schools basically offer two scheduling options: an hour period for each subject area, or one of the configurations of block scheduling. The middle school schedule generally follows the high school schedule in order to prepare students for the high school experience.
The hour period schedule is based on the Carnegie Unit, a scheduling configuration that has influenced the overall organization of high school for decades. A Carnegie Unit is defined as
A measure of classroom attendance at the secondary school level. One unit represents one hour per day each academic year, or between 180 and 190 hours of classroom contact (United States Education Reference File, 1999).
James S. Frey, president of Educational Credential Evaluations, Inc., expands on this definition by describing the various ways secondary schools compute this annual unit of high school work. Although the annual unit is the most common reporting measure in the United States, some secondary schools use a semester unit to record a subject taught one hour per day, five days per week, for one semester (half of a school year); others use a semester hour unit to record a subject taught one hour per week for one semester. These three ways of reporting are related to each other as follows:
1 annual unit = 2 semester units = 10 semester hour units
Frey further notes that although the reporting is in units of an hour, that “hour” might be 60, 55, 50, 45, or 40 minutes, and the academic year might be 36, 37, 38, 39, or 40 weeks long. However, these inequities in time are generally ignored when curricula from two or more institutions are compared (United States Education Reference File, 1999). The criteria for receiving a high school diploma is based on the number of Carnegie Units earned on the required course of study. Although colleges and universities use the Carnegie Unit as part of their admission criteria, the inequity in class time that defines a Carnegie Unit makes it difficult for college admission officers to evaluate how much time an applicant has spent on required course work.
The Carnegie Unit has been criticized in recent years because of its emphasis on time spent in courses, the instructional organization of discrete 40-plus-minute segments, and the unit earned rather than emphasis on the knowledge acquired (Maeroff, 1994). Critics also say that the pace a typical student pursues in nine different locations doing nine different activities in a six-and-a-half-hour school day is grueling. The pace for the teacher is grueling as well: an average teacher teaches five classes each day, works with 125 to 180 students, and makes multiple daily preparations. As Carroll (1994) states, “It produces a hectic, impersonal, inefficient instructional environment; provides inadequate time for probing ideas in depth; and tends to discourage using a variety of learning activities.” Individual students learn at differing rates and in different ways, yet the hour period allocates identical time for all students. In addition, lost time occurs during the multiple class changes and administrative duties that accompany starting and ending so many classes in one day. The Carnegie Unit is an organizational system that emphasizes an inflexible use of time that, for many students, does not serve their learning needs.
In response to the criticisms of the Carnegie Unit and the need for a longer instructional period than the hour period, the concept of block scheduling was introduced. Cawelti (1994) defines block scheduling as follows:
At least part of the daily schedule is organized into larger blocks of time (more than 60 minutes) to allow flexibility for a diversity of instructional activities.
Regardless of the configuration of the block schedule, the most important issue is that it drastically changes the way instructional time is used and instruction is delivered. There is decreased reliance on the standard lecture-discussion-seatwork pattern and an increase in individualization and creative teaching strategies. These larger blocks of time allow for a more flexible classroom environment in which teachers can use more varied and interactive styles of teaching. Figures 2.1 and 2.2 are examples of two of the most frequently used block schedule configurations.
On the surface, block scheduling seems to be the answer to some of the time problems inherent in the Carnegie Unit schedule. However, the process of making the change to block scheduling is a challenge. The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (1990) recommends two years of planning before implementation. Teachers who have taught in 35-minute to 50-minute blocks for years need time and training in order to develop the skills and strategies necessary to teach in large blocks of time. Teachers who are most successful in block scheduling plan lessons to include explanation, application, and synthesis. Most teachers have had little experience in the application and synthesis phases of a lesson. Another area in which teachers need in-depth training is in cooperative learning, community building, and team formation.
Implementing block scheduling is a time issue—one that must be carefully considered before the schedule change is actually made. Without consensus among the superintendent, school board, principals, teachers, students, and parents, the change is likely to be met with strong resistance. Building the support of all stakeholders takes time and requires many opportunities for all parties to learn about the proposed new schedule and discuss the ramifications of the change (Carroll, 1994). Teachers need time for professional development to help them implement a new schedule and develop their abilities to use instructional strategies appropriately in a longer time period. Scheduling plans must be carefully developed to ensure that each student is provided the time and the opportunity to complete the requirements for high school graduation. So although block scheduling offers an alternative to the Carnegie Unit schedule, implementing the change is not only a time issue but also an issue that touches at the very heart of the nature of high school.
Steve Krasner (2002) has compiled an extensive bibliography of resources on block scheduling and use of time in school at
Although teachers have little control over the mandated daily schedule or the curriculum, they do have control over how they allocate time to teach the standards and grade-level objectives. Teachers' responsibilities for pacing the year's curriculum involve two important elements: teaching key grade-level or course content to a depth that ensures that most students master that content—in other words, teaching a curriculum that favors depth over breadth rather than being an inch deep and a mile wide; and assessing the learning needs of each student and providing interventions to help students move along a continuum of learning experiences that allows them to achieve grade-level standards.
Instructional pacing is directly related to time allocation. Too many times, teachers reach the midpoint of the school year and realize that there is no way they can accomplish the year's work or even cover what's on the upcoming test. So, pacing must begin the first day of the new school year.
The following suggestions can help you make important decisions about pacing instruction:
Refer to your pacing calendar every week as you plan your lessons. Quickly finding that your pacing plan is either too ambitious for your students or that the pace of instruction is too slow buys time that you can spend on other topics, and can alert you to the need to assist students for whom the pacing is too rigorous. Accountability demands that we take a “macro” look at the curriculum at the beginning of the year and a “micro” look every week because time for learning is a key variable in student achievement. Instructional planning is key to successful classroom management.
Pacing the curriculum for exceptional students with identified learning disabilities and for able learners is especially challenging in today's standardsbased environment. Resources that provide information and assistance in meeting these students' needs are available through the Learning Disabilities Association and the Council for Exceptional Children. Information on flexible pacing techniques for use with able and gifted learners is available from the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities (1989) and Gifted Education.
Once your pacing plan is in place, you can think about how to use the instructional blocks of time allocated in the daily schedule. You can choose from several different instructional methodologies and can structure the time within an instructional block in a myriad of ways. However, planning successful instructional activities includes the sequence of events shown in Figure 2.3.
What the Teacher Does
Preparing and Distributing Materials
Plans ahead—checks that there are enough materials for each student.
Duplicate materials that each student needs. For center work, prepares materials, decides on procedures for center use, and posts directions, rules, and the assignment; decides on student groups if necessary.
Estimate the number of minutes required for class setup—passing out materials, setting up group work areas, and getting students moved to their workstations.
Introducing the Lesson
Determines the lesson objective; decides on a motivating, interactive way to introduce it; decides what product students are to produce, and the due date for that product.
Estimate the number of minutes required to introduce the lesson.
Decides on an instructional strategy—a teacher demonstration, lecture, whole-class discussion, debate, or other strategy.
Estimate the number of minutes needed for the instructional strategy.
Decides on the directions and the amount of time required for most students to complete the assignment.
Estimate the length of time you need to give students to work on the assignment.
Determine whether the assignment must be turned in before the end of class or whether it is homework due at a future time.
Closing the Lesson
Decides on a strategy for lesson closure. Plans to give a five-minute “stop work and cleanup” warning followed by a two-minute warning so students can give their full attention to the closure activity.
Plan to use the last three to five minutes to celebrate what students have learned, link the new learning to real life and prior learning, review students' responsibilities for completing the assignment, and develop anticipation for tomorrow's lesson.
Now let's look at ways to use various instructional strategies within varying timeframes. One key factor in planning a lesson is to consider the attention span of your students. According to the 3M Meeting Network, the average attention span of an audience is 18 minutes—and this is for adults (Burmark, 2002). We know that young children generally have short attention spans. (To estimate the number of minutes of a child's attention span, add two to the child's age.) So, for children in the elementary grades, activities within a time period should vary to include a mix of listening, movement, hands-on experiences, and individual, partner, or group work. Even though middle and high school students should have longer attention spans, many students continue to have difficulty paying attention to a lecture for more than 10 minutes. On the other hand, some children can concentrate for extended periods of time on a project, game, computer activity, or book in which they are intensely interested. So, it is easy to understand why time management is crucial to successful learning experiences.
For each learning experience, the time for each element of the lesson varies with the type of activity and the students' ages. Use of time and choice of instructional strategies are also based on the scheduled time for the learning experience. However, regardless of the length of time, successful lessons include the entire sequence of events shown in Figure 2.1 above. Time wasted getting materials and supplies at the beginning of the lesson sets a negative tone and encourages off-task behavior. Lectures and seatwork assignments that are too long and group work and hands-on activities that are too short fail to accomplish the learning objective. A hurried ending to the lesson leaves students without closure—one of the key elements important for permanent learning. It is also a critical time for teachers to assess which students accomplished the objective and which students need more time. The old adage “Time lost is never found” rings especially true in the classroom.
The following time-management strategies can help you develop procedures for dealing with supplies and student work:
The following suggestions are helpful for organizing group work and managing students working at learning centers:
The following suggestions help you estimate how long you should plan for various types of instructional strategies:
Effective time management is one of the skills necessary for success in school as well as in everyday life and in the work world. Students need time to practice, rehearse, review, apply, and connect new learning and relate it to their everyday lives. Teachers who effectively manage time give their students the best opportunity to learn and to develop personal habits that lead to wise use of time.
In Chapter 3, we examine ways to manage transitions, administrative tasks, and interruptions. Efficient use of time for these activities increases the amount of time for instructional activities.
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