For the last 15 years, I have been juggling teaching full time, going to university and working part-time on writing contracts or giving conferences. Add to that raising a wonderful daughter as a single mom and you can see how time management had to become one of my strong skills.
Teaching requires lots of time management skills. From being able to juggle twenty questions per minutes from students to entering grades on time for the next report card, finding tools and strategies to help are essential. In my next blog posts, I thought I would share with you some the things that work for me and help me be efficient in life and in the classroom.
Time Management in the Classroom
It’s easy to lose track of time when managing 30 students in a class. I use timers a lot in my classroom for various purposes. One thing I like to do to help students stay on task and learn to manage their time is to use a timer that I project on the board. One of my favourite ones is the Online Stopwatch. It is simple to use and even has fun stopwatches like snails competing in a race. I found, however, that using the plain stopwatch was more efficient since some students became distracted by the cute and fun stopwatches. Be careful to set the volume at an appropriate level as well since the timer will make a loud sound when it is done. It will make students jump in surprise, but they usually find it funny.
I would not personally use an online timer during evaluations since I find it very stressful for students. I prefer to use it when students are working in groups. Like all human beings, it’s easy to get distracted when sitting with other humans. Admit it, if you sit with a team of colleagues, you will easily get distracted and talk about other things. It happens to students as well and it’s normal. When I use a timer, I’ve often seen students get back on task, by themselves, by watching how much time they have left and telling each other that they should hurry and get back to work. It’s always great to see them manage their time without reminders from me.
If the idea of projecting a timer on the board is too intense for you, asking a student to be your timer can also be somewhat efficient. Of course, you have to make sure you can trust this student. Simply ask him or her to tell you when the 5 minutes is up. It’s a little less efficient but is a good solution if you don’t have a timer at all or do not wish to project one. You could also assign someone in each team to be the time keeper. This way, you are teaching the students to manage time on their own. Students can use their watches or their phone (if your school allows it) or simply use the clock on the wall.
I also like to set timers for myself sometimes and not project it to students. If I am going to give students 5 minutes to reflect on something, I will set up a 5-minute timer on my watch or cellphone. I make sure the alarm does not ring and that’s why I prefer to use the vibrating mode instead of an alarm. I can then decide if students need a few more minutes or if it’s time to stop. It’s easy to get distracted while helping a student, for example, and give students double the intended time because you just did not see time fly.
5 minutes before the bell
When I first started teaching, I would often start an activity towards the end of the class, not realizing that the class was about to end. It’s a good thing to keep students engaged until the end of class but sometimes starting a new activity with only 5 minutes to go ruins the hook effect of the activity and means starting all over the following class, giving the students a boring sense of déjà vu. Timers can help if you set them on your watch or your phone to remind you that there are only 5 minutes left to class. Fill in that last 5 minutes with a wrap up activity instead. End with a fun exit ticket, a quick survey, a word cloud of today’s lesson or a quick game that helps to end your class on a positive and engaging note.
ICT Tip: for word clouds, I like to use Answer Garden since it is easy to use for students and can be set up quickly. If you do not have access to technology, you could have students create a word cloud on the board using dry erase markers or have them team up to create their own word clouds on paper. An easy activity that will also help review the vocabulary used in the lesson.
Although timers can be of great help, they should also be used with flexibility in mind. If you plan a lesson expecting everything to be timed perfectly and for the student to be done in a certain amount of time, you will surely create extra stress and pressure on yourself. Some groups will go faster than others, some students will be finished way ahead of time while some may need extra time to complete everything. I cannot stress enough how important it is to walk your classroom. Check on students, analyze their work, see what they’re struggling with and stop the whole class for further instructions or strategies if necessary. Timers can be changed, paused, started again… they are flexible and so should you be!