Where Do We Find the Time to Do All This Stuff?

Where do we find the time?

[Note: This article is a significantly (about 75% so) revised version of a column I did in the February 2013 issue of AMLE’s Middle Ground magazine. It has been updated numerous times since, including through our time here in the 2021-2022 school year. RCW]

Many schools aren’t designed for teaching. Most are designed to protect the status quo, emphasizing curriculum’s traverse and compliance more than solid student learning that lasts. Entering our third decade of the 21st century, we know this entrenched cattle call from class to class limits student learning. We know we can do better.

Faced with increased class sizes, more diverse student bodies, expanding curriculum, dwindling resources and staff, and pandemic-induced stressors, we wonder: When are we supposed to do all that is asked of us?  We are conscientious people who want to do right by our students and our profession, but we need that rare commodity to be effective: time.

Let’s explore the time issue in two directions:

  • Finding time to meet the needs of students as they learn, and
  • Finding time to plan and prepare for teaching.

Both are important, one can’t be done without the other.

Time to Meet Students’ Learning Needs

It’s not uncommon in middle and high schools to have forty students in a classroom built for 28 and for that class to last only 45 minutes (and in some cases even less). In such situations, an individual student is lucky to get five minutes of undivided teacher attention, yet many of our students need considerably longer one-on-one and small group time in order to be successful.  If we’re going to teach students effectively, we have to transcend accepted classroom and master schedule boundaries. A lot goes unlearned by students because we adhered to conventional notions of time for learning.

Let’s examine two dozen ways to extend students’ learning when the regular classroom timeslot just isn’t enough to do the job:

Saturday School – From 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Saturday of the school year, this is way beyond “Breakfast Club” stereotypes. Teachers work with students in ratios of no more than eight students per teacher.  Students work on homework, projects, basic skills, or specific skills and content as assigned by classroom teachers. Many teachers love the extra stipends for working with students on Saturdays, and students desperately want to be productive, learn the material, experience the less anxious, more supportive time, and get their work done. Seriously, they do, and their weekly activities or family lives may get in the way.

Early-Back Programs – Students who struggle with any subject from last year report back to school after summer vacation four weeks early. Their days run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., with teachers reporting at 8 a.m. to prepare for the day. During their half-day sessions, students review material from the previous year and learn some of the big ideas for the year ahead. When the real first day of school begins, they are already acclimated to school, confident, and mentally “firing all thrusters,” rather than already behind and playing catch up. This is much better than their usual journey of becoming quickly overwhelmed and falling farther behind with each passing day.

Audio and Video Podcasting of Daily Lessons – With today’s technology and most students’ access to technology at home, café, library, or parents’ work, this is easier than ever and very helpful.  Usually five to 20 minutes in length, these posted podcasts can be reviewed by parents trying to assist their children with homework or by students reviewing the algorithm, content, and skills for themselves. As a student, I appreciate being able to go through a lesson a second time when struggling with content. The classroom camera is focused on the teacher during the content presentation portion of the lesson only, not the students, in order to protect privacy.

Lunch Period – It’s important for teachers to get together at lunch to socialize or connect for academic discussions most of the week, but we can give up one period a week to both eat and work with students as necessary.  If students need several lunch work periods, we can rotate monitoring those sessions among the team or department.

One Assignment for Two Classes — Sometimes a student has such huge snowball of content to learn and work to do, it’s overwhelming; they give up.  In these cases, let’s combine efforts and make life livable for students by letting a student incorporate content/skills from one subject into the work of another subject.  It’s actually a lot easier than people think, and it often results in surprisingly creative and substantive projects that increase student engagement: Evidence of skills in probability and statistics woven into an expository essay about a new lottery or casino coming to the state; graphic design skills incorporated into lab drawings; HTML/web design skills used to create a media presentation on viruses and what constitutes living things; musical parody (with proper music terms and dynamics) of math properties. Interdisciplinary techniques work well!

After and Before School Work – We often need parent permission and transportation support for these, but they are worth seeking. Some schools have “Late Bus Days,” in which students can catch a ride home on a special bus that re-traces the normal after-school route 90 to 120 minutes later.

E-mail “Fan Out” Message to All Faculty Asking for Students to Be Sent to Us If They Finish Early —  If students finish 10 minutes or more early in one class, we invite colleagues to send them to us. We have materials ready for them to use no matter when they arrive, and we leave notes on our classroom doors if they show up while we’re in the washroom or cafeteria: “Wait here, Jeremy. Yes, you’re being watched. Don’t bother looking for the camera. It’s micro-technology; you’ll never see it. Broooo-hahaha! I’ll be back in 90 seconds.”   

Summer School Program – ‘Half-day, four to six weeks, focused on one or two subjects only.

Tutoring/Mentoring – Some schools work with families to pay for twice a week or more tutoring or mentoring during the year and through the summer months not only to fill in the missing content, but to also getting a running start on what’s to come. Here’s a cool thing, too: Middle school students, high school students, and some college students get service hours or actual course credits for tutoring younger students on a voluntary basis. In addition, there are some retirees in local communities looking for a way to still contribute and stimulate their own thinking who would love to work with students one on one. Let’s grab these people – It takes a village, remember?

On-line Tutorials and Apps – This field has exploded during the COVID-19, Delta, and Omicron world. It’s worth investigating, if we haven’t already. On-line tutorials include all forms of distance learning, including the many websites already set up with wonderful explanations of content we teach, such as Schooltube.com, Teachertube.com, Teachingchannel.org, and Khanacademy.org. Of course, there are numerous on-line sites that help with student learning. One of my favorite sites to stay up to date on all things in Ed Tech is www.techlearning.com/. From my own experiences, a partial list of great on-line sites to use with students includes:

iTunes U, Virtual Nerd Mobile Math, Open Culture, www.desmos.com, Lumosity Mobile, Quizlet, PhotoMath, SkyView® Free,  Free Graphing Calculator, Learn Spanish 24/7, NASA App, Learn Spanish by MindSnacks, Drivers Ed, My Math Flash Cards App, The Official SAT Question of the Day, Star Walk™ – 5 Stars Astronomy Guide to the Night Sky Map & Planets, How to Draw – step by step Drawing Lessons, iCivics.org, FactCheck.org, Deceptive Detective, Learn French by MindSnacks, How to Make Origami, 3D Brain, Google Classroom, Coursera, Udemy, Codecademy: Code Hour, Sign Language!, How to make Paper Airplanes, SAT Vocab by MindSnacks, Funbrain.com, Knowledgeadventure.com, Coolmath-games.com, Math-play.com/Algebra-Math-Games, Mangahigh.com/en-us/games/algebrameltdown, Vocab Victor, Historyglobe.com/jamestown/, besthistorysites.net/general-history-resources/games-animations, Brainpop.com (Science games and more!), Edheads.org

In addition, many national subject associations have on-line chat rooms, twitter conversations, and similar vehicles for teachers to share practical tips, and practical apps for the classroom are frequent topics.

Of course, each on-line explanation must be vetted for accuracy and appropriateness before we promote them to students, but using such sites creates flexibility, as students can refer to them 24/7 as they work. Note, too, that there are new app’s coming out for phones, laptops, and more every week. Many students are already savvy in their use, and they can even create apps and tutorials for classmates and future generations (‘A great learning experience for them!), if we ask. It makes sense to curate a list of apps and on-line tutorials specifically connected to our course content and skills and to publicize that list to our students frequently.

Volunteer Adults Sitting with Students in the ClassroomAs mentioned above, some retirees like to stay active in local schools and this can be very meaningful for both them and students.  Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, for example, Mr. Hooper can sit next to David from 10:45 to 11:55 a.m. to answer his questions, keep him focused, and provide descriptive feedback on his work.  Not only does this help his new learning, it keeps him from falling behind.

Resource Room/Class – Classroom content is shared with specialists in learning disabilities, speech and language issues, and other challenges, and students have a period a day in which they work in much smaller groups with these experts on that content while also working on their study skills and personal development.

Peer Tutoring ProgramsStart one, if your school doesn’t have one.  Struggling students who need more time with specific subjects can sign up for peer assistance.  Be sure to train peer tutors how to be helpful, not to just do the work for their peers.

Alternative, Less Time Intensive Assignments/Assessments Pascal said it well, “If I had more time, I would have written less.”  We can shorten a lot of our assignments.  Consider asking students to do one page of excellent writing on a topic rather than 3 pages of throwing everything into the mix, hoping something will stick with the teacher.  Five problems done well, ‘even analyzed, can be more useful than doing 35. A student could build a model out of everyday objects of an abstract concept and defend it as a good representation of the concept instead of answering 25 chapter review questions.

Consider, too, “banking” portions of tests that are done well when asking students to re-do tests and assessments.  If a test is compartmentalized into sub-sections, students only need to do re-do the portions done poorly, not all of them.  If the test is large and interwoven, of course, they do the entire test again.

Teaching Students Personal Study Skills – Many students are inefficient with their studying and time management. It takes them an hour to do something that should have taken 15 minutes. Unfortunately, many teachers assume students have the skills for independent study, and they don’t.  Temporarily suspending the curriculum to teach these life skills and weaving them into the units of study are wise moves. Between us and our students, brainstorm at least 25 specific techniques students can use to manage their time and study on their own.

Start this effort by gathering every practical tip for cultivating Executive Function in students, which is where most of skills needed to navigate school focus and responsibilities are housed. Here are some of the biggest of those skills: response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, flexibility, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritizing, organization, time management, goal-directed persistence, metacognition (Guare, Dawson, Guare, 2013, p. 15-17). Highly recommended books on this include: Smart but Scattered Teens (Guare, Dawson, and Guare), Late, Lost and Unprepared (Cooper-Khan and Dietzel), Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom (Meltzer), and Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits (Dawson, Guare).

‘Great tip here: Visit the Student Services section of college and university websites! They often have very specific ideas of how to study and manage time productively, and these tips work well for middle and high school students.

Finding Time for Planning and Preparation

Most of us want to differentiate instruction, incorporate the latest teaching techniques and tools, order supplies, return parent phone calls, sponsor afterschool clubs/sports/arts, unpack standards, change the water in the fish tanks, catch up on professional reading, participate in PLC’s, catch up with our own agenda after covering someone’s class due to lack of substitute teachers, get a birthday card for the custodian who cleans our classroom, grade projects, get some exercise, and create wonderful presentations to engage students every day. Then reality interrupts, and we spend our time lowering our expectations, wondering if airline ticket agents on stormy, “Flights Cancelled” days at Chicago O’Hare have easier jobs and whether or not there are openings.

Let’s consider ideas on how to find time to plan and prepare for the things we’d like to do in teaching:

Divide and Conquer – We can divide the units of study for the year among our subject-like colleagues, and each one of us design multiple instructional and assessment options for the unit plus a list of great on-line resources, so we all don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Prioritize Standards as “Power” or Primary Standards – We have curriculum overload, and we can’t do justice to all our standards, so let’s decide which ones get the most time and attention because they create the most leverage in students’ lives, i.e. Identify the power standards. Once decided, we can place these large “boulders” into our schedule and spend our time and students’ efforts primarily on those concepts, weaving the other standards in and around them as we can.

Some will read this and say, “But they’re all important,” and my response is, “No, they’re not.”  Consult with your larger subject association’s benchmarks and standards, your own expertise, and local standards committees, then make professionally informed decisions. Stop claiming, however, that all standards are equally important in students’ lives. If they were all equally important and worth mastering, we’d keep students in school years beyond 12th grade in order to teach every standard thoroughly.

Recently, curriculum expert Heidi Hayes Jacobs has been promoting the four C’s for curriculum survival as we navigate the stresses of teaching during a pandemic. Many of us use her four C’s as a helpful filter through which to consider our curriculum priorities. When it comes to the curriculum and getting through the year, Hayes asks us to determine what to Cut out, Cut back, Consolidate, and what we made need to Create out of necessity or efficiency. Consider using these to decide where to place your time and energy.

On-line Search of Lesson Plans and Standards/Outcomes Unwrapped – Hey, someone has already invented the wheel!  Let’s grab it and use it as a template for our own work or a catalyst for something even better. It’s amazing how many Websites now have lesson plans and instructional ideas for the content we teach.  Let’s start looking for them and collecting them, and let’s create and maintain a large repository for what we and our subject-like colleagues find online and in professional trainings so any of us needing a bit of help can draw from that collected wisdom. As we mention above, we can start with Youtube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, and online tutorials for great ideas.

Be Efficient with Re-Learning/Re-Assessing. – It’s the re-learning that takes time when doing re-do’s/re-takes, not that actual re-assessment itself, and the students create the substantive re-learning plan that we can approve, not us. Of course, they may need to choose re-learning activities from a menu we provide or the class generates, but the student does the work here. As for the re-assessing portion, if our tests are organized into segments or sections by standards, we only have to re-assess that one (or several) section(s), not the whole thing. This is much shorter: Re-assessments in my classes over the years have often been 10-20 minute interviews or learning demonstrations back at my desk while the rest of the class works on something else or quickly before or after school.  For practical tips on re-learning and re-assessment that protects teacher sanity while also teaching students content and maturation skills, please see my April 2021 article for AMLE on that topic.

Use Online Apps, Gradebooks, and Learner Management Systems’ Options for Providing Feedback.  Many programs allow teachers to record audio files of their feedback which can be played and heard by parents and students at home. This can get a lot of information across in a shorter amount of time than it takes to write it all out, and the teacher’s vocal inflections in the recordings can communicate feedback far more clearly than typed or handwritten messages. Plus, sometimes we just get tired of all that writing! Also, online tools like Flipgrid, Padlet, Nearpod, Voxer, ScreenCastify, and Google Forms/Docs/Hangout/Suite allow us to record our feedback in short videos and create constructive feedback teacher to student, student to student, and student to teacher.

Avoid Being the Bottleneck. Things just take longer when we teachers are the only ones doing them. We get exhausted, too. So, let’s get students to do at least half of all clerical things in the classroom. Let’s train some students to be tech experts for classmates who struggle with tech challenges, teaching them how to coach others. Let’s have students curate the class website, prepare notes for absent classmates, write the official letters of invitation for guest speakers, and ask them to design and prep online tutorials for classmates and future classes.

Let’s also train students in descriptive feedback techniques: We want all students to self-monitor their own progress, and that means they do the heavy lifting of analyzing their work against evaluative criteria and making recommendations for what they need to do or learn next in order to meet their academic goals. If they have to wait for me, their teacher, to provide all feedback and come up with a proper instructional response, it’s not only passive and subject to half-hearted responses from students, it’s going to slow unit progression. Let’s teach students’ parents to use the techniques, too. Do a search on Youtube.com on, “Descriptive Feedback Techniques, Part 1,” (There’s a part 2 as well!), and my last name, and you’ll receive two great videos to get this started in your class. No longer will you be in the way of that feedback getting heard and used!

‘Gentle reminder here: Feedback doesn’t work if students don’t have a basic sense of the academic goal and at least some fundamental understanding of the content or skill proficiency on which we’re trying to give feedback. In these cases, instead of wasting time using feedback techniques, turn instead to re-teaching the content and skills, then use feedback techniques later in the learning process. It’ll save time.

Reconsider the Media and Approach We Use – Sometimes we spend time distributing a class set of media tools, replacing two of them that don’t seem to work (6 minutes), looking for a lost computer file (4 minutes), and trying to get access to the Internet (5 minutes), when we could have drawn a quick picture on the chalkboard or asked to students to portray the four parts of the plant in our demonstration. On the other hand, a long-winded, overly elaborate, mult-prop demonstration of complex content would have been understood by students more quickly with a clear animation found on-line. Let’s not let technology and its trappings get in the way of efficient learning, nor should we fail to use the modern age.

Teach in a Developmentally Appropriate Manner – Where in your lesson plans can we find evidence of your expertise in the unique nature of the students you serve? And where can we find evidence of expertise in scaffolding and tiering for multiple readiness levels in one class period?  Large chunks of time are wasted, and many teachers and students get frustrated by how long something takes to learn, simply because the teacher didn’t take the time to get up to speed on how students in this age group learn best as well as the individual learning needs of their students. For example, if I know that some students are into baseball, they might learn faster if I use baseball analogies. If I know someone doesn’t have much of personal background in something important I’m about to teach, I build that background first, rather than spend multiple sessions on the backside remediating when they didn’t learn it properly the first time around. If I know that taking notes while listening to lectures limits the instructional impact of lectures and the meaningful use of those notes when studying later, I’m the one to blame when the lesson runs long; students are busy writing statements verbatim, just to get them recorded, and they are not engaging in content. To save time and be effective, let’s teach smarter, not harder, by teaching in a versatile, development responsive manner.

Stop grading everything. No, we don’t have to grade everything in order to get students to do their work. When teachers study what we know about motivation, building self-efficacy, time management, and respect for deadlines, they never resort to grading coercion again. Over and over we’ve found that feedback and agency are far more motivating than is judgement or a label on students’ formative efforts.  And what a relief! Grading takes such a long time, not only to grade, but to also tabulate, especially with over 150 students on the roster!  Be assured: We are more effective and we save time and energy if we provide feedback only, not grades, on the following:

labs (unless used for final demonstrations of proficiency), writings (unless used for final demonstrations of proficiency), competitions or exhibitions that are a part of series of such, anything used as way for students first come to know and practice content and/or skills, anything once declared as final or summative that receives helpful feedback students can use to improve learning, drafts, homework/classwork, online modules, exit slips/cards, quizzes (These are just progress checks, not judgement of final competency), group projects, notebooks, note-taking

Use Creative Ways to Get Lessons to Students and Work Back from Students When Doing Remote Instruction.

  • Extend the school year, require summer learning or early back programs, use e-portfolios (collected works) maintained through grade levels
  • School buses driven near homes to provide temporary wi-fi service
  • School bus drivers deliver homework packets and pick up students’ finished packets on designated routes
  • School wi-fi extended to parking lots for parents to drive up and use as students download/upload content
  • Double-check home has wi-fi and computers for use, if not, provide it, asking businesses and organizations for donations of computers and mobile wi-fi equipment
  • Provide digi-corders/tablets with DVD’s/flashdrives of recorded lessons
  • Once a week – teachers drive to students’ homes and stand outside their door and window to teach and assess them
  • Hire out of work, background-checked adults to tutor students virtually
  • Compile and send students a list of vetted on-line tutorials for content they are supposed to be learning from educators and students around the world. Also: TeacherTube, Newsela, Khan Academy, BrainPop, Smithsonian Learning Lab
  • Send assignments with self-addressed, stamped envelopes for easy return of completed work
  • Students take pictures of traditional assessments and send in photos
  • phone conversations
  • Ask known friends, coaches, and family members to communicate with family
  • Use asynchronous lessons

Use Parents/Volunteers – Parents feel distanced from schools when their children reach middle and high school, and they don’t need to be. Yes, it’s cool to have Room Parents for each period or someone to coordinate volunteer efforts.  Save time and use parents to do anything that is not confidential, such as: record-keeping, collations, fundraising, creating/maintaining bulletin boards/centers/libraries/supplies/cages/Websites, coordinating fieldtrips, photocopying, lab set-ups, lining the soccer field, cleaning/fixing/returning equipment, and repairing books/laptops.

Subscribe to Professional Education Magazines/Journals – They have compelling ideas that will save us time and energy, but here’s the kicker: We have to actually read them.  It sounds weird to say we need to find time to read about how to save time, but it really works: Those of us who carve time into the day for professional reading and contemplation are more efficient and effective in the classroom. And an added bonus: We get excited about what we’re doing and the things that stress us don’t seem so threatening.

Read Those Education Books We’ve Been Thinking about Reading – We get energized by these books, fully vested in our profession, and we make connections and find strategies and principles to improve our teaching performance, which makes learning more efficient. It has even greater impact when we talk about what we’ve been reading with colleagues. I am much more efficient and effective in teaching because of the ideas I’ve heard from others. Go for it!

Participate in Blogs, Webinars, Twitter Chats, and Other On-line Communities – Post the question, “I need 5 creative vocabulary ideas for my force and motion unit. Any ideas?” or, “Does anyone know a good source for science probes?” and you’ll get multiple suggestions for both within hours.  Read about one teacher’s use of 6-word memoirs to get amazing insights from students about historical figures, musical composers, or math symbols, and you have your summarization method for tomorrow’s class. Join a 50-minute Webinar on how to help students become competent with increased text complexity, use Sketchnotes, or how to use Virtual Reality goggles with a particular archeological site when teaching your unit on Machu Picchu. These are intensely useful professional development vehicles for busy teachers.

Use SmartBrief and similar on-line “Updates in the Profession” Tools —  Smartbrief.com curates the latest articles in education (and other topics) as they are published, then creates a brief description of each one and posts those descriptions for the top 10-15 articles each day.  For busy educators who don’t have time to look through all that is published in education each day (research, practical ideas, commentary, new programs, technology, evaluation, politics, etc.) and decide which articles to read, this is immensely helpful.  They have Smartbriefs for almost everyone, including:  math teachers, social studies teachers, English teachers, teachers of gifted, school boards, and STEM careers.  While these are all good, don’t forget to sign up for the one focused just on middle level education and the one from ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) as they are both particularly helpful. Go to www.smartbrief.com, and choose education from the categories offered. There you will find the specific briefs you’d like to receive, and they’re all free.

If you are willing to pay for someone to read the latest research articles and commentary on the big ideas in education and post the main points for each of those articles in a thoughtful, concise manner, I highly recommend the Marshall Memo by Kim Marshal. Visit the Website and take a look:  http://www.marshallmemo.com

Read and Use Some of the Materials Publishers Put in the Teacher’s Version of the Basal Text – Most adopted textbooks provide material for two to three years’ worth of instruction.  They want teachers to be fully fortified for any classroom reality.  Look for great ideas in the margins of the teacher’s version, and look through the supplementary materials in hand and on-line.  There will be stuff you can use.

Establish a Faculty Portfolio of Ideas (FPI) at every Photocopier in the Building or On-line – Every time we photocopy something for classroom or professional use, we can make one extra copy and insert it into the appropriate hanging file in the plastic crate next to the photocopier. When others are looking for ideas for their own lessons, they can look through these files, pullout and photocopy what they want, replacing it for the next person.  At the end of the year, these readings, worksheets, tests, puzzles, project directions, assignments, etc. can be placed into a binder representing faculty wisdom for that year and accessed in the professional library of our school for years to come.  Of course, we can also provide space on the school’s Intranet for teachers to post articles, reflections, and teaching tips for any subject that can ready be access from classrooms or home while planning.

Conduct Instructional Roundtables – A teacher or an administrator posts a topic for discussion as well as a time and a date for the meeting a week to 10 days in advance, usually conducted before or after school, but some have been at dinner time after teachers have finished their committee, sports, or club sponsorship activities. The topic is usually very specific and practical such as, “Setting up Formative/Summative Gradebooks,” “Dealing with Chronic Disruptors,” “Vocabulary Acquisition for Intense Content,” “Positive Responses to Difficult Parents,” “Setting up the I-Pad for Record Keeping,” “Yoga for Busy Teachers,” and, “Efficient Ways to Deal with all the Paperwork.”  These are all voluntary; participants attend the topics that interest them.

Roundtables last one hour or less.  Everyone is told, “B.Y.O.S.S. – Bring your own snack and strategy.”  All are invited, but as their ticket to the session, each participant must have at least one idea regarding the topic to share (photocopied at least 12 times – usually no more than 12 show up), or alternatively, ready to send electronically to everyone who brought a device. And here’s the cool part: For every idea shared by an individual participant, the larger group must add to it, improve it, or come up with a spin-off idea that also works. This means that, if seven people show up, each one will walk out with 14 practical ideas.

It’s important to keep this a grassroots effort, not something mandated by administration. ‘Anyone can post a call for an Instructional Roundtable at any point.  Of course, the wisest of the bunch double-check the master meeting schedule for the school to make sure their appointed time doesn’t conflict with something major on the calendar. With increased comfort with Zoom and similar platforms, we can do this in the evening from our homes, of course, or on weekends. Gosh, it’s such a relief to the work week to get these practical tips from colleagues!

Cultivate Personal/Professional Creativity – I can’t emphasize it enough: Many times one or more doors are closed to us when working with students or trying to find time to get tasks done because we’re not practiced in thinking divergently; we see only a tedious plow through hardened muck as our only way forward. Take a few moments to build personal creativity, combining and re-combining tasks and ideas, to see if there is not a more efficient, time-saving route. I’ve written about this and I present on this, and would be happy to send some resources and recommended readings on building our personal intellect and creativity every week.

Create and Maintain Tickler Files – Each time we teach, we get great ideas about what to do the next time we teach this same lesson. Record those ideas in your tickler file for easy reference next year. There are also times when we think, “Wow, that looked good on paper, but it fell apart when using it with real students in the room!” So, make sure the list includes what never to do again, things to think about weeks ahead of time, and so on. Making the same mistakes in lesson design year after year is a waste of time.

Build Kinesthetics and Movement into your Lessons – Students’ bodies were not meant to sit in desks or in front of a screen; they are built to move. Seriously, this is true even with those expressing lethargy; humans were built to move. By keeping them seated at desks or tables or sitting still in front of a screen, we’re imposing stress and frustration. Moving bodies get oxygen and nutrients to the cognitive portions of the brain, they relieve stress on bone growth plates, and they relax students, opening them to more learning. In addition, movement and kinesthesia can clarify abstract concepts and move understanding into long-term memory.  Students learn content quickly and retain it longer, and we don’t spend as much time remediating during our lessons.  For some great ideas on adding movement to your lessons, visit these Websites:

These are excellent books for getting movement into instruction, problem-solving, personal maturation, and more:

  • Fluegelman, Andrew, Editor. The New Games Book, Headlands Press Book, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1976
  • Henton, Mary (1996) Adventure in the Classroom.  Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt
  • Lundberg, Elaine M.; Thurston, Cheryl Miller. (1997)  If They’re Laughing…   Fort Collins, Colorado:  Cottonwood Press, Inc.
  • Rohnke, K. (1984). Silver Bullets. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt.
  • Rohnke, K. & Butler, S. (1995). QuickSilver. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt
  • Rohnke, K. (1991). The Bottomless Bag Again. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt
  • Rohnke, K. (1991). Bottomless Baggie. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt
  • Rohnke, K. (1989). Cowstail and Cobras II. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt

Readers may notice that some of these ideas require money to fully implement. That’s true, but remember, too, that about half of all education grants go unclaimed every year.  “How can this be?” you might ask. The reality is that no one in the building sat down and looked for grants and spent time filling out the applications. Change this for your staff:  Give someone a period off every day just to work on finding and writing grants for others. Corwin Press, ASCD, NASSP have great books on grant-writing, and a quick, online search on education grants will yield thousands of results.  Many local businesses and organizations may help with some of the money needed here, too. It’s worth assigning one person to take the lead on this.

In one of his speeches, President Kennedy said that we must use time as a tool, not a crutch.  I would add, “…or an excuse,” though it will happen occasionally.  Let’s not sacrifice good instruction to protect the master schedule or just to get through the curriculum. We’re better than that. As they can, administrators can take one thing off a teacher’s “To Do” list for every new thing added, and we can avoid scheduling eight or nine short classes during the school day, and instead, offer depth and better learning focusing on fewer subjects each day. In addition, truly effective schools know that keeping up with the pacing guide is never the ultimate goal, but student learning is: Effective teachers retain autonomy to do the right thing in its right time and in its most effective way. It’s arrogant to assume a committee designing the pacing guide over the summer will be able to account for every classroom reality during the year.

Time is the rarest mineral ore to teachers; it’s deeply appreciated when given or discovered. Let’s get good at that mining, opening possibilities heretofore untouched, providing needed relief from the stresses of pandemic teaching. We can turn schools (and quarantined learning spots) into places of real learning and teaching; it’s time we did.



Rick Wormeli is a long-time teacher, consultant and author living in Herndon, Virginia. His book, The Collected Writings (So Far) of Rick Wormeli: Crazy, Good Stuff I Learned about Teaching Along the Way, is available from www.amle.org/store. His latest books are, Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Second Edition (Stenhouse Publishers, 2018) and Summarization in any Subject: 60 Innovative, Tech-Infused Strategies for Deeper Student Learning, 2nd edition (ASCD, 2019), co-authored with Dedra Stafford. He can be reached at rick@rickwormeli.onmicrosoft.com, @rickwormeli2 (Twitter), and at www.rickwormeli.com.




  1. This article really helped me see what other creative options that teachers can utilize in order to create more time for students to receive extra instructional support that they may need. When I saw the post I was already aware of some of these options like the early start and rotating lunch periods. The other options like late bus days and one assignment two classes are new to me but the concepts are great. If there is a large paper that I can combine with another teacher to work in the classroom with, I think that students would get more out of it. They would be reinforcing information from both classes while combining skills, which is what they need to learn going into the real world. This concept is the most beneficial in my opinion.

  2. While the first few suggestions for extending time with students seem like they would be very effective, they also seem like they have the potential to put an unwanted and unhelpful spotlight on students who are struggling where their classmates are not. By requiring students to participate in Saturday School, Early-Back Programs, Lunch Period [Work Time], and Summer School, we risk isolation them from their peers or providing a target at which bullies (intentional or unintentional) can aim. For students who are struggling due to disability, this can be especially harmful for their social development and performance (which may already be harmed or limited by their disability). While these might be the most effective or reliable means of extending time with students, they can also be the least compassionate, so I think it might be best if they are used as sparingly as possible.