I remember being a new teacher and going through the checklist of suggested practices. While lesson planning, an administrator-like voice would be resonating these bullet points through my mind:
When students enter your classroom, there HAS to be an engaging question on the board, a “Do Now,” accompanied by the learning objectives for the day.
Students must enter the room quietly, take their seats, and be ready to learn by the bell.
The daily lesson needs to be taught with less than 10 minutes of lecture to maximize student engagement.
Group work is essential to each lesson and methods like think-pair-share should be utilized for passive assessments.
End each lesson with a meaningful conclusion that ties every concept of the day together and sets up the following day’s lesson.
These practices are important and suitable for classroom management and student engagement, but as a new teacher, this is NOT how my classroom flowed.
I was constantly frazzled.
One class would finish and I’d have 4-5 students waiting with individual questions. This would flow into the beginning of the next class, which didn’t allow time to write a “Do Now” or class objectives on the board. The class would see I was busy, so students wouldn’t sit quietly in their seats, ready for learning. After quickly answering student questions, I would be writing late passes, while my distracted class would be bantering loudly or asking to go to the bathroom. The lesson would start 5-10 minutes late, and I’d try to salvage what little time we had left. My agenda was packed full without realistic time frames, and the ending bell would always catch me by surprise. As you can imagine, I was never able to include a smooth conclusion that brought the lesson together and challenged the students for the day to come.
Admittedly, I was a little rough around the edges when I started teaching. In college, I had studied engineering, and out of college, I had initially pursued a career as an environmental engineer/scientist for a consulting firm. When I made the transition to teaching, I had done it via the “Alternate Route” and had no prior training until my one year provisional teacher course. Prior to the Alternate Route program, I had a very strong background in physics, chemistry, and environmental science, so I felt comfortable with course content, but I had no clue how to manage a classroom.
While lesson planning, my head was swimming with thoughts of pedagogy and pressures to make it through the curriculum, yet the structure of my lessons continued to fall apart. It wasn’t until I sat down with Dr. Alyce Hunter that I realized what I was doing wrong. Dr. Hunter was the Assistant Superintendent and Head of Curriculum in the district at the time, and she empathized with my classroom struggles. She could see that I was an engaging teacher with a strong knowledge base, but didn’t have the experience needed to optimize time in the classroom. This was the cause of my class management issues, and looking back, a disservice to my students.
Dr. Hunter suggested one thing to make a world of difference: minute lesson plans. She wanted me to plan my lessons in small blocks of time ranging from one to ten minutes. She encouraged me to continue lesson planning with objectives, content, pedagogy, and conclusions, and guided me to reframe the lessons into the format shown below:
First 6 Minutes of a Minute Plan Example:
The minute lesson turned wasted time into minutes that counted. In order to end students gathering around my desk at the end of class, I had them write their questions on a post-it note and stick it on the door on their way out of class. I was able to post answers to their questions on my school website later that day. Sometimes these questions became my “Do Now” for the following class. Giving students the opportunity to ask their questions in a different way freed me to be prepared for the beginning of the following class.
By breaking the lesson down into small time segments, I quickly realized how much time I was actually wasting each class period. With the minute lesson, I found myself giving students very clear expectations throughout the lesson. With group work, instead of asking students to let me know when they were finished, I told them that they only had five minutes to discuss and five minutes to complete the task. The lessons flowed better and students felt a needed sense of urgency. My teaching efficiency increased by at least a third. Class discussions became more meaningful, test results improved, and we covered material at a faster rate. Guess what happened to my classroom management issues? They disappeared!
Whether you’re a new teacher or a veteran teacher trying to improve, this was the game changing strategy that pushed me in the direction of being a highly effective teacher. Dr. Hunter had the patience to sit down with me in my time of need. I am forever grateful for that and I hope this short blog can help others make the most of their precious (virtual or traditional) classroom time.