Every teacher is looking for ways to save time in and out of the classroom. Especially returning to the classroom after 16 months, there is so much to do and I personally try to avoid working after hours. And I never take home work on the weekend. However, I do my lesson planning on Sunday when I am relaxed and have reflected on how the previous week went. Then I am ready to determine what I need to teach and how for the next week.
1. Make a Long Range Calendar
I do the planning for the week on Sunday. Yes, I try to avoid working on the weekend but early on Sunday morning, I am already thinking ahead to what needs to be done. I create a Calendar for weeks ahead of when the tests/quizzes will be given and certain lessons will be taught. This is an overview–not a detailed list. Example: this is the calendar for August.
There are some students who are out sick (already), switching classes and still trying to get organized. So this overview is published to Google Classroom for students. This eliminates much of the “I was absent yesterday, did we do anything?”.
2. Organize Lessons
Once my calendar was published, I created topics with Lesson 1, 2, 3,….etc to separate all the individual lessons. My lesson slides have detailed instruction and links, if needed, to complete assignments. At this point in Geometry classes, we are doing constructions so some of the lessons include video walk-thrus. Any printed material is linked in the lesson slides and students can print them out in the library if they have been absent.
This has been very helpful and minimizes much of the student confusion about what work was assigned, where can they get the missing work and providing additional instructions. It also comes in handy for new students who may not be required to complete old work, but may lack some foundational skills. The lesson slides include vocabulary, theorems, pictures and examples of finished constructions.
3. Turn in Basket
Create one place for students to turn in work. It could be a bin, a file folder on the wall, a cube but in my class it is a basket. All work goes in the basket–even late work. If students are turning worksheets/printed work that is late, they stamp it late and turn it in. To be honest, the stamp is symbolic. I do not deduct any points for late work, but having to stamp it makes the student acknowledge they did not turn in work on time. The basket is the front of the room located close to the door where students enter so it is convenient to drop those papers in as you come in class or as you leave.
Before I used the basket, students laid them on my desk, handed them to me, left them on their desks-or any other flat surface in the room. Now, if it isn’t in the basket, it does not get graded.
Need to use rulers today? How about colored pencils or scissors? All my supplies are in baskets on the table as students enter. An agenda is displayed so students know what supplies they need on any particular day, including any papers. This eliminates the need to pass out supplies, have students up and wandering to collect supplies and saves instructional time.
This one is not only a time saver for me but an organizational tool for students to keep track of assignments. Provide an agenda for students each day. This gives students an idea of what we will cover, the time it should take (this is pure guesswork on my part), and the order they should complete assignments.
Students do not have to ask me, what do I do first or what do I do next. I have provided a logical sequence for the entire period. Now this does not mean that students do the work in the order I provided. Some students really enjoy doing the constructions and will do all of them first. Other students prefer the practice since it is scored. As long as they are being successful, I don’t worry about the order they are working.
6. Don’t Grade Everything
On a recent blog post, which you can read here, I offered a list of ideas that helps cut down on the grading. My warm ups (aka bell-ringers) are a review of the previous day lesson in some way. They do not need to be graded and often are not. They could be vocabulary: What is the definition of a circle, What does Bisect mean. They could be a thinking question: How do we use a compass to measure distance, How can you prove that an angle is bisected.
This provides information to me. How much do I need to review, and often the lesson is adapted to include what I learn when I read the answers from students. Sometimes, these answers can be displayed (without names) to let students see the variety of answers and choose the best. Students need to see wrong answers in order to improve their own understanding.
7. Throw Out Atypical Class Assignments
By atypical I mean those assignments that do not represent progress of ALL students. If every student does poorly on an assignment, this is a sign that I missed some information or did not review expectations well enough. That lack of understanding is my fault and I throw the assignment out. I also do not grade test or quiz reviews, especially when students work with partners or in groups.
Essentially, grade enough to give an idea of the progress a student is making towards mastery.
Designing the Perfect Classroom
8. A Classroom Does Not Have to be Pretty
I see the same pictures on Pinterest and Instagram with those perfect bulletin boards and color coordinated, creative classroom decor. It is pretty, but does not lead to mastery of content. The time spent making beautiful bulletin boards could be spend on more creative lessons. I have purchased borders and plain paper. I like color so when students make posters or projects, I put them up on colored card stock. It takes 10-15 minutes.
If you MUST have designer bulletin boards, purchase some pre made decor and put it up. You can also use pre-cut letter templates for titles, and blocks of color with colored paper or rolls of wrapping paper. Better yet, have your students who finish early put up displays for you.
9. Anchor Charts
When I go to conferences, I often see sessions about making anchor charts or word walls for display in the classroom. I do agree that these are valuable teaching tools for class and provide reinforcement for students. But teachers do not have to make them. Have students do it. It is a better learning experience to assign students vocabulary words and have them create word wall cards than it is to just print them and stick them up.
In Geometry so far, we have created 13 different types of constructions. I had each group create a construction for the display, title it and write the steps to complete it as an assignment. By the end of the day, I have a variety of constructions ready to print out and display. And students wrote the directions which helped reinforce the process.
10. Student Translators
I always have several students who cannot speak English in my classrooms, so I find students who can translate my directions and explain assignments for students in their own language. If I do not have a student who speaks that language, we can use programs to translate directions into a native language to assist students.
11. Student Experts
There are always students who have more expertise in certain areas than others. Since we use chrome books on a regular basis, I have a few students in each class who are my technology experts. They know how to take screenshots, can troubleshoot problems when programs do not load, can help upload assignments/images and help students refresh their screens when they freeze.
This frees my time to help students who need more help with the content. Using students to help others builds confidence and community.
12. Emergency Lesson Plans
Emergencies will happen and we cannot control that, but we can control how we prepare for them. I worked in a school that required 5 days of emergency lesson plans (including copied printed) at the beginning of the year. They were never used because when we were absent, we were required to provide lesson plans for the sub.
But this is a great idea for teachers. Have several days of emergency lesson prepared, not necessarily for absences but that could be one use. But if you plan on using online activities one day and the internet is out, you need a back up plan. Those printed copies could save the day.
What if you are called out of the classroom into a meeting at the last minute. This has happened to me several times. The person replacing you will not be able to provide content expertise, so have some review available for students. Having materials prepared in advance can make such interruptions less stressful.
I hope these ideas save you time as they have done for me. If you try one of these ideas or have ideas you would like to add, leave a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.