By Teachers, For Teachers
It seems like there’s always more curriculum to cover, more skills to master, more standards to achieve. I’ve wondered from time to time how certain classes – like history – that seem to have more content to cover with each generation, will ever fit all they need to into a tidy school year.
One of the struggles of today’s teacher is how to use classroom management to fit everything we’re supposed to into the time we have allotted. The stakes seem higher than ever, yet it hardly seems like “less” of anything will be required any time soon. How can we possibly be expected to get everything done?
As many teachers are realizing, it’s time we learned to work smarter. We want to begin using classroom management to optimize our curriculums and content in a way that covers all our responsibilities without cutting corners or skipping important content along the way. Here are a few classroom management tips that might just help you make the most of your time.
I used to take great pride in being the sole distributor of knowledge in my classroom. “I, your prestigious teacher, know everything and everything in this classroom is run directly through me.” Now my attitude is partially reversed: While I still maintain responsibility for ensuring my students achieve towards our objectives, I take pride in what I can outsource, too.
The truth is that there are so many fantastic resources available to our students today. Sometimes, there’s just someone out there who explains the fundamentals better. Sometimes there’s a website or resource that just facilitates the learning in a little bit sharper manner than we might do on our own.
These are worthy of taking advantage of for two main reasons: First, students can utilize these resources on their own time in their own way, saving classroom time for the most significant instructional needs. Second, teachers can spend less time preparing for and assessing certain aspects of class, allowing them to focus on what they especially need to.
When I discovered Ted-Ed videos, Noredink.com, and self-grading quizzes on my LMS, this revolutionized how I approached certain aspects of class time and flipped learning. The students still learn, but now every little detail doesn’t have to come directly from me and we can allocate class time toward the best learning activities.
As long as we’re on the subject of flipping, why not try to make your own videos? This isn’t entirely outsourcing your teaching to a third party, but it is helping expedite the way you approach instruction. If there are aspects of instruction that can be summarized in a short, effective video, consider creating your videos.
The advantages to creating your own instructional videos are numerous: Students can watch your instructions any time, even when they’re absent from class. Students can also watch again and again, making sure they understand each element of your explanation. Your class time won’t be tethered to these instructions anymore, but rather students can come prepared to class ready to apply what you discussed in the videos. Plus, once you make an effective instructional video, you can use it each year; it takes time to make up front, but saves you loads of time down the road.
Before each semester begins I plan out every single day of instruction. I don’t try to plan down-to-the-minute lessons, but I do give myself a bird’s-eye view of the semester. Getting a glimpse of the semester prior to actually teaching it allows me the chance to ensure that I’m giving each portion of the curriculum its fair share. I can tell where I can trim the fat, or where I need to beef up the time allotted for any given component.
One of the best ways for someone to learn is by teaching. Sounds ironic, right? But the truth is that we grasp a topic best when we can understand it enough to explain to someone else. Using this technique in your classroom can help students take personal responsibility for learning certain content, to an extent that they may not necessarily undertake were they just still playing the role of student.
What skills will your class impart to students? What will they try to master by the end of the school year? It’s important not just to spread these various skills out evenly across the year, spending time on them one-by-one in detached units. Rather, focus on teaching students the fundamentals of each essential course skill early on, and then using the rest of the year to reinforce those skills.
The idea behind any course is not to simply teach a random sampling of disassociated content throughout the year, but rather to have students attain mastery of various skills that they can apply in any future setting. Allow your course to reveal these fundamentals from the get go, then structure each unit to meaningfully build upon that foundation. As the year progresses, you’ll find that you can cover more content with students faster because they have a solid, skill-based foundation.
Who is responsible for monitoring student learning, you or them? On paper, schools are responsible for making sure students achieve up to standards; however, it’s really up to the students themselves whether they learn or not. Oftentimes teachers run themselves ragged trying to teach and review content, only to discover that students aren’t learning and aren’t caring. What’s missing?
The missing ingredient, of course, is the intrinsic motivation that drives authentic learning. When students see value in what your course offers, then they are more likely to soak it up. More importantly, when students are trained to be aware of their own learning and development, then they begin to hold themselves accountable. Instead of teachers trying to determine what each individual student can or can’t do, the students themselves assume that responsibility and learn more quickly, review more studiously, and engagement more deeply.
We may not live to see the day that suddenly requires us to test less often, cover less content, or spend fewer days in school. How then can we possibly do it all, given the time constraints we have? The answer is to become savvier with our technology and more conscientious with our time and expectations. As we work to prepare our students for the future, we want to make sure that we take full advantage of the best practices of the present.
How to you maximize your instructional time with your students? What would you add or modify on this list? Leave your thoughts for us in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.