Delaware Writing Project

Add 25 Hours of Learning Time this Year!

By Kimberly Wagner *Discover. Learn. Take Risks.*


“I just don’t have the time.”

“How can I fit it all in?”running in a clock

“Where did this year go?”

These are complaints that I voiced daily as a teacher and ones that I hear often as a literacy coach.  As a teacher, I never found those answers.  All I found was that no matter how carefully I planned, every lesson, every day, every year was a race to the end, and I always came up short.

This past spring, I was working with a fourth grade student who was acting particularly not sure goofy.  I honestly can’t remember what the activity was, but the activity should have taken no more than a minute, and it took him 3.  I pointed this out to him; his response, “Who cares… it’s just two minutes.”

I don’t know why I chose that moment as a teachable math one, but I did.  We multiplied 2 minutes by 6 (for the six classes he has each day) and then by 5 (for each day of the week).  We found that wasting just 2 minutes in each class actually amounts to 60 lost minutes, or one hour of work time, every week.  For him, this was one hour to get his work done more quickly and get a jump on independent choice activities or homework.  For me… it was a light bulb.  There was my time!  I am certain that just two minutes of wasted time each hour would vastly underestimate missed time in my classroom.  As I reflected on my own practice and observed in classrooms over the next week, I paid careful attention to instances when only some students were participating or where time was not being maximized.  Some time-saving spaces I found are:

  1. Give every student all of the materials:  Flashcards are common materials in classrooms, but they might not be the best materials.  They often result in turn taking for some and waiting for most.  We can maximize practice time by giving everyone a sheet with all of the practice items and having everyone point to their own card and respond.  Think about it:  If your time spent practicing 10 words or sounds typically takes 3 minutes with turn taking, you can get through 10 words multiple times in one minute if all your students participate at the same time.  This gives you two minutes a day or 10 minutes a week or 6 hours in a school year for extra learning time!
  2. Read chorally:  Let’s just be honest with each other for a minute.  When one person is reading, whether it is text or directions, very few students are following along.  Some are reading ahead, some are staring around the classroom, and only some are with the reader.  This is lost learning time for many students.  Simply have everyone read all together.  Choral reading is reading in unison with the teacher’s voice guiding.  If everyone is reading chorally, then everyone is focused on the task (and building fluency!).  This tip doesn’t save on overall learning time although it might save on the number of “what am I supposed to do?” questions, but it will maximize time spent learning.
  3. Teach with urgency:  It is not always necessary to slow down when teaching students a new concept. In early elementary grades we are working to build automaticity.  When we slow segmenting and blending activities down, we are actually making the task more difficult and we are losing learning time.  If you can just get 1 minute faster at moving your students through working with words or reading for automaticity, you can save 3 hours for additional learning.
  4. Create a routine and stick to it:  We all know that transition time eats learning time!  The more familiar students are with common routines, even within learning chunks, the faster everything will move.  Build a structure within your small group time and stick to it.  Find a way to rotate students from one subject to the next and stick to it… all day, every day.  I have seen teachers have great success by playing a music clip.  If you can skim off 5 minutes a day in transition time (within learning routines and movement routines), you can earn back almost 15 hours of learning!

Between meeting the demands of standards, managing weather interruptions, assemblies, and birthdays, we know that every second counts, every day.  Finding small places, here and there, to save some time, can provide us with the additional teaching hours we crave!

About the Author

Kim Wagner is a literacy specialist for the Professional Development Center for Educators at the University of Delaware and the Site Director for the Delaware Writing Project.  She is a National Board Certified Early and Middle Child Literacy:  Reading-Language Arts teacher.  She loves sharing her love of reading and writing with her two young children.

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