By John Churchly
I have been an educator for a combined 38 years at School District #73 (Kamloops/Thompson) and at TRU. I have taught teachers in the B.Ed. and M.Ed. programs as well as in workshops as an educational developer (K-16). Yet, when I read Dr. Mahtab Nazemi’s CELT blog a few weeks ago, “Classroom Time Management: Strategies in Response to Over/Under Planning,” I had to face my own instructional shortcomings. You see, occasionally during a lesson I run out of material early and scramble to add in a small group discussion… or I give the class an extra-long break to go to Common Grounds Coffee during my evening class. Much more frequently I over plan and then find myself making drastic cuts on the fly during a lesson. Sometimes I talk too much; sometimes I’m too much of a Captain Video (like my grade 9 Social Studies teacher – although they were actually filmstrips not videos then); and sometimes I shortchange students on think time and discussion time to make up for my excesses. I have to admit that I’m aware of it – I’ve just chosen not to change my behaviour as my content and ideas are just too brilliant to skip any of them(?!). However, in the spirit of self-improvement and explicitly modeling what I teach to teachers about instructional practices, and after reading the blog, I am changing my ways.
This blog post is not an extension of Dr. Nazemi’s thoughtful and thorough description of how to manage instructional time. Rather, it is an example of time management in action with an accompanying resource I built along the way.
I have always estimated how much time things will take in my classes, but it’s never been more than a rough guess. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes I can be off by an hour or more. To rectify this, especially teaching synchronous online classes due to the pandemic, I have built a spreadsheet to help calculate the exact amount of time for each activity and to identify the time on the clock at various points during my lesson as suggested by Dr. Nazemi.
The spreadsheet is based on PowerPoint slides as the building blocks of the class. This is not to say PowerPoint is and should be the basis of all (or any) lessons. It is simply an organizing structure for what I want to cover, and the slides conveniently provide something for students to look at other than my messy hair and office on BigBlueButton (or even worse – live in a classroom).
I start with by entering the class start time (in 24hour format). Then I assign each PowerPoint slide a number of minutes for my talk time. This is still an estimate but given that I’m estimating at the granular slide level, my estimates are far more accurate than guessing the amount of time for a whole lecture. I can also rehearse them to make sure I’m accurate. As I integrate student activities and video clips during various points in the presentation, I include time estimates for them in separate columns. While in the past I’ve used back-of-the-envelope guesses of how much time to use for student activities, I’m now moving to more structured activities that have set (granular) times. An example is 1-2-4-All from Liberating Structures (the version known to K-12 educators is Think-Pair-Share). The total time for 1-2-4-All is 12 minutes. I use a timer on my watch (or phone) to ensure I follow the exact times. Of course, I’m flexible to take more or less time as needed, but I do it thoughtfully and strategically rather than throwing away my timing with great abandon.
All the times for each slide (my talk time, student activity time, and video time) are automatically summed and added to the clock time to indicate the actual time for each slide to occur. The spreadsheet also sums the total number of minutes of teacher talk time, student activity time, and video time as well as giving relative proportions for each (here’s a sample filled-in spreadsheet). Usually when I start the planning process, I’m well over the amount of class time available, and I’m forced to adjust my activities, the number of slides, and how much I want to talk. Once I’m happy with the total amount of time and the proportions of teacher-talk to student activity and videos, I highlight key slides and their times on the spreadsheet that I use as reference points during the lesson. Of course, this is to avoid looking at the spreadsheet every two minutes for each slide. When I check the highlighted times during my lesson, I’m looking at them as targets and I can adjust the rest of my lesson if I’m over/under by too much.
The spreadsheet is as much a planning tool as an in-the-moment guide for my lessons. However, the spreadsheet has an additional benefit. It provides me with documentation of my teaching practice, including the relative proportion of teacher talk time to student activity time. When writing my APAR (or tenure/promotion dossier), I can analyse this documentation (alongside student evaluations) to consider if there are enough student activities (and whether they are efficacious or just busy work to fill time). Using the spreadsheets for a whole term, I can show over time that I’ve adjusted my teaching to respond to students’ comments and my own analysis.
It is certainly acceptable and sometimes wise to drop a planned lesson timing and go with a teachable moment or abandon a lesson component that is just not working. But day in, day out, I want to come to my classes well-prepared, and I also want to be able to answer the questions: Do I talk too much? Do I give inadequate think time? Am I Captain Video? If yes, mea culpa!