Party Favors

Thursday, January 16, 2014
your curly comrade, Suzanne

I love to throw a good party!  And no party would be complete without a party favor(s) at the end.

Why shouldn't student teaching be the same way?  After all each school day is it's own party. (It's okay if you snickered a little.) I am so thankful to have had a student teacher for the fall semester, and I wanted to thank her for the time she spent with me and equip her to ride off into her own classroom. 

So what did I pick for her party favors?
1.  Well wishes from her students
2.  A journal to record ideas and funny moments from that first year- Seriously, thinking back on your first year, couldn't it be turned into a best seller?  I don't know if mine would fall under comedy or tragedy.  Totally depends on the month in question.
3.  A great set of brand spanking new Shared Readings you should all be excited about
4.  A t-shirt (if you happen to have previously taught at the school where she takes a job)
5.  Something cute and useful for her desk
most importantly...
6.  A timer

If I could give every new teacher only one thing, it would be a timer Shared Readings a timer (but it's a really close call). Pacing is a tricky thing and has a major impact on instruction and management.  

Might I present some truisms that have stood the test of time...

"What gets measured gets done."
I don't think this was intended to be classroom advice, but it totally holds true.  If a student knows they have 45 minutes (or worse, doesn't have any time frame) to work on something, motivation is low.  It'll get done...later...after this other's next on my list...whoopsie...too late!  

Students work best when given a specific time frame.  Student A might think, "Oh man! We only have 7 minutes.  I better get busy!"  While Student B rationalizes, "Okay.  It's only seven minutes. Who can't do something for seven minutes?!"  Either way- work is getting done, and your class is moving along.

"It's better to move too fast than too slow."
Hear me out on this one.  A student who is sitting there waiting is not learning.  In fact, they are likely talking to a neighbor, playing the drums on their desk, tearing something up, or planning to do one of the aforementioned.  

Here in lies the power of MOST.  It is time to move on when MOST students are finished with the task.  As teachers we so badly want ALL students to carry something through to completion.  It's a noble charge.  However, we are doing a disservice to MOST of our students when we force them to wait (brain off), receive instruction and continue working (brain on), wait some more (power down)...  Pretty soon they're going to opt out of rejoining the class.  For students who need more time, consider shortening the length of the assignment given so that they can stay close to the pace of the class.  I bet it would be okay if this student thought through the graphic organizer but didn't complete a final copy.  The thinking was done, and that's what matters most.

"It's not personal."
I feel so bad when I see a student working hard and have to cut them off.  In a reality where students must complete (and bubble) there work in a given time frame, they need to practice and become comfortable working under time constraints.  I've found that the timer makes me not the bad guy when the buzzer goes off.  They can hate it's little $4, plastic guts all they want, but we've got to spend the next 89 instructional days together!

Don't get me wrong.  I totally manipulate the time when need be.  There are times that I realize my pre-planned time frames were unrealistic and need to be adjusted.  Sometimes I quietly pause the timer and restart it when we're ready, and other times I verbally extend a "bonus" minute or 45 seconds when they are working hard but aren't quite there.  

Just a note: I rarely ask students to work for more than 7-10 minutes at a time.  It makes tasks manageable and keeps them motivated.  Even a larger assignment I will break into more measurable chunks.  My struggling students draft a pre-planned essay in 20 minutes using our 3-7-7-3 write rule.

Whether you've been teaching for 20 minutes or 20 years, focus on the pacing of your lesson, and you'll be surprised what all you and your students can accomplish.

Looks like my time's up!


  1. Hi! I'm a fellow English teacher and just found your blog through Pinterest. I think your ideas on time here are spot-on. When I was a student teacher, I had a rough class. They were just a classroom full of big, bursting-with-life personalities. My host teacher sent me to the Spanish room (I took French in high school)--which ended up being brilliant! The Spanish teacher gave out one, short task at a time and set a timer on the Smartboard. When the timer went off, you were done (with leeway, as you described). I have found this to be a miracle worker with my tough classes. Sometimes, on really rough days, I give them really short directives and only 30-60 seconds to complete it! Great advice and I will always have my host teacher to thank!

    1. Rin,
      We are so like-minded in this! That is absolutely how I handle difficult classes- time 'em, time 'em, time 'em. Even for the everyday, I have students that comment on how quickly our class time goes because they were busy doing smaller tasks for specific times. Thanks for reading!

  2. Do you have your students write for the first 7 minutes of class? Free write? Topic?
    Andrea Peterson

    1. I have students "free write" for about 7 minutes to practice their Star Point words ( We create idea pages early in the year, so I always remind them to look back there if they're stuck.