Strategies for Teachers to Maximize Student Learning Time

student learning time
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Time is a precious commodity for teachers. Most teachers would argue that they never have enough time to reach every student, particularly the ones that are below grade level. Therefore, every second a teacher has with their students should be a meaningful and productive second. 

Successful teachers establish procedures and expectations that minimize wasteful downtime and maximize engaging learning opportunities.

Wasted time does add up. A teacher who loses as little as five minutes of instructional minutes per day due to inefficiencies wastes fifteen hours of opportunity over the course of an 180-day school year. That extra time would likely make a significant difference for every student, but particularly those who are struggling learners. Teachers can utilize the following strategies to maximize student learning time and minimize downtime.

Better Planning and Preparation

Effective planning and preparation are essential in maximizing student learning time. Too many teachers under-plan and find themselves with nothing to do for the last few minutes of class. Teachers should get in the habit of over-planning— too much is always better than not enough. In addition, teachers should always have their materials laid out and ready to go before students arrive.

Another important—and often overlooked—component of planning and preparation is practice.

  Many teachers skip this essential element, but they shouldn't. Independent practice of lessons and activities allows teachers to work out the kinks beforehand, ensuring that minimum instructional time will be lost.

Buffer the Distractions

Distractions run rampant during school hours. An announcement comes over the loudspeaker, an unexpected guest knocks on the classroom door, an argument breaks out between students during class time.

There is no way to eliminate every single distraction, but some are more easily controlled than others. Teachers can evaluate distractions by keeping a journal over the course of a two-week period. At the end of this period, teachers can better determine which distractions can be limited and formulate a plan to minimize them.

Create Efficient Procedures

Classroom procedures are an essential part of the learning environment. Those teachers who operate their classroom like a well-oiled machine maximize student learning time. Teachers should develop efficient procedures for every aspect of the classroom. This includes routine activities such as sharpening pencils, turning in assignments, or getting into groups. 

Eliminate “Free Time”

Most teachers give “free time” at some point during the school day. It is easy to do when we may not be feeling the best or we under-plan. But we know when we give it, we are not taking advantage of the precious time that we have with our students. Our students love “free time”, but it is not what is best for them. As teachers, our mission is to educate. “Free time” runs directly counter to that mission.

Ensure Quick Transitions

Transitions occur every time you switch from one component of a lesson or activity into another.

Transitions when poorly executed can slow a lesson down tremendously. When done right, they are practiced procedures that are quick and seamless. Transitions are a major opportunity for teachers to gain back some of that valuable time. Transitions may also include changing from one class to another. In this case, students must be taught to bring the correct materials to class, use the bathroom or get a drink, and be in their seats ready to learn when the next class period starts.

Give Clear and Concise Directions

A major component in teaching is providing your students with clear and concise directions. In other words, directions should be easy to understand and as simple and straightforward as possible. Poor or confusing directions can stymie a lesson and quickly turn the learning environment into total chaos.

This takes away valuable instruction time and disrupts the learning process. Good directions are given in multiple formats (i.e. verbal and written). Many teachers select a handful of students to summarize the directions before turning them lose to get started on the activity.

Have a Backup Plan

No amount of planning can account for everything that could go wrong in a lesson. This makes having a backup plan critical. As a teacher, you make adjustments to lessons on the fly all the time. Occasionally, there will be situations where more than a simple adjustment is needed. Having a backup plan ready can ensure that learning time for that class period will not be lost. In an ideal world, everything will always go according to plan, but the classroom environment is often far from ideal. Teachers should develop a set of backup plans to fall back on should things fall apart at any point.

Maintain Control of the Classroom Environment

Many teachers lose valuable instructional time because they have poor classroom management skills. The teacher has failed to gain control of the classroom environment and establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect with their students. These teachers are continuously having to redirect students and often spend more time correcting students than teaching them. This is perhaps the most limiting factor in maximizing learning time. Teachers must develop and maintain effective classroom management skills where learning is valued, the teacher is respected, and expectations and procedures are set and met beginning on day one.

Practice Procedural Steps with Students

Even the best intentions fall by the wayside if students do not truly understand what is being asked of them. This problem can be easily taken care of with a little practice and repetition. Veteran teachers will tell you that the tone for the year is often set within the first few days. This is the time to practice your expected procedures and expectations over and over. Teachers who take the time within the first few days to drill these procedures will save valuable instructional time as they move throughout the year.

Stay On Task

It is easy for teachers to get distracted and veer off topic from time to time. There are some students who, frankly, are masters at making this happen. They are able to engage a teacher in a conversation about a personal interest or tell a funny story that captivates the classes attention but keeps them from completing the lessons and activities scheduled for the day. To maximize student learning time, teachers must maintain control of the pace and flow of the environment. While no teacher wants to miss out on a teachable moment, you don't want to chase rabbits either.