Save Class Time, Be Awesome Longer

Thoughtful pupil sitting at her deskMy first college course in Education was an ED Psych class at University of Illinois in the early 90’s. “Professor Z” taught the class enthusiastically and I have a cinematic memory of his rant against lost instructional time.

I can still hear him working through the math, “If you lose 5 minutes a day to slow and noisy transitions, over the course of 180 days that is a total of 540 minutes. Eight hours, a full day of time lost just in transitions.”

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is just two or three minutes. Do what you can to capture that time for teaching. Here are two great ways to get more out of the time you have with your class-


  1. Don’t wait for quiet.

When I took a hard look at when I was waiting for quiet, I realized I often didn’t need quiet. I was engaging in an exercise of compliance. As I mature in my profession I am less and less invested in compliance. I am more intrigued my inspiration, and I am jazzed by joy, so I want to find more time for dreaming and dancing.

A typical end of class used to look like this (for clarity please note I am specials teacher in my school and we co-teach with the general studies teachers. I love my co-teachers and have learned a great deal from them):

Me: “Alright it is cleanup time, please bring me your iPads and let’s line up.”

3 minutes of students waiting for me to remove the device from their hands personally.

Me: “Many of my friends still have not brought me their iPads”

Classroom teacher: “We don’t want to lose a drop in our bucket do we?”*

There is a better way. As the Kindergarten students finish their photowalk, I hit play on a GoNoodle video. The students hear the music, see the dancing, and quickly bring me their iPads. By the time the minute and a half video has finished all the iPads are with me and all the kids are dancing. No threats or imaginary economies needed.


  1. Stop raising hands, call on everyone.

Sounds waves are very poor tools to communicate information. They are subject to interference and are all too short lived. Many of our classroom management strategies are designed to help these poor tools perform better. I challenge that many teachers in 1:1 environments overuse soundwaves to provide instruction and foster discussion.

If you have not seen the hottest new live response tools for 1:1 environment, you have to check out Kahoot. This platform allows teachers to get responses from the whole class in real time.

Most of the tools like Kahoot work on fixed multiple choice questions. For a greater challenge (Ed. Note- DOK DOK. Who’s there? These tips.), let’s focus this on class discussions, because this is where we can transform time and support many more student voices in the class conversation. If we use a chat room in class, something like Today’s Meet, students can share their responses to a question without waiting to listen to each individual as they speak.

Kindergarten children using computerChat tools can create many more opportunities for students to share their developing understanding of a topic than verbal discussion. When we run an audio-only class discussion there is a limit on the number of possible speaking turns because they only happen one at a time. With chat-based tools students can all contribute the moment they are moved to. They can also read all of their classmates responses.

The other reason I love chat tools in class is the amount of reading and writing they support. When I run an audio, or conventional class discussion in fifth grade the only skill the kids are practicing is not talking and pretending to listen. This may be an overly-harsh assessment, but so often I have to stop the conversation to ask them not to talk over each other and to listen to the speaker. When we move the discussion to text-based chat they have to read what their classmates are writing and respond in writing. This gets us a short, but intense skill practice and application time in class.

The students who do not read as quickly struggle with the class chat and that is not a surprise. The goal is to get students practicing reading and typing. Some students need to be able to stop the scroll of the chat. You may be able to adjust the refresh rate of the chat to slow it down. Keep these chats brief and use them when they add to the experience, but they are not the experience themselves.

In a recent 5th grade class we used Today’s Meet to discuss a movie while we watched it and the students were overwhelmed with how quickly the chat moved. As a class we talked about how much “noise” there was in the chat. The students noticed that side conversations in the chat made it hard to follow, just like side conversations during a conventional class discussion.

Reading a chat is cognitively demanding and students may need help in finding reading strategies that help them follow the in-class discussion. Instead of enforcing silence, support universal sharing.

These tools both demonstrate simple ways to transform how students interact with each other. When we take the time to train our students in group chat we are equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in any online discussion.

Find a tool you like, and get your students chatting and dancing.


*yes, threat points are the worst. I believe that threatening to take something from someone if they don’t follow your directions is extortion. As a teacher I have resorted to bribery and extortion more often than I can even catalog. Active engagement and invisible transitions can eliminate these conflict points.


Sam and Wokka (Wokka’s the handsome one)

Sam Patterson, MFA, EdD, has been teaching sixteen years and is currently a technology integration specialist at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, California. Sam loves working with elementary teachers to discover new ways that technology can support progressive pedagogy and student empowerment. Sam brings a background of poetry and literacy studies to the tech lessons he designs with the teachers at his school. His forthcoming book Programming in the Primary Grade:Beyond the hour of Code can be found on BeyondTheHourofCode.com. Sam also blogs for Edutopia.org, MyPaperlessClassroom.com, and is a cohost of the TechEducator Podcast.

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Sam Patterson

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