Teaching holds the tension between certainty and ambiguity. When teachers plan units and lessons, we draw upon our craft knowledge to design a series of experiences with logic, flow, coherence, and outcomes, to name a few aspects. And teaching is ambiguous at the same time because in the course of a lesson, students respond in individual ways. In the tension of both certainty and ambiguity, teachers are always considering time.
Costa and Garmston (2013) name a few ways that teachers think about time. We understand that these ways also represent how time dimensions impact the teacher’s thinking while teaching.
The authors define this time dimension as the order in which a teacher decides how instruction will proceed. When we plan lessons, we often deliberately question what should happen first, then next and next, in order to shape and direct what we intend students to know, understand and be able to do. We look at short-range planning such as within a unit of inquiry, and we also design the long-term planning such as in a yearlong overview, or an entire program of inquiry.
Because we think deeply about factors like student readiness and developmental progression of cognitive processes such as concept formation and ability to think abstractly, sequence is an important dimension of time for teachers.
The Twitterchat on Approaches to Teaching and Learning brought the idea that the multiple dimensions of a school program are braided. (During the chat, we discussed that ‘woven’ was not as precise a term for our program intentions as ‘braided.’ In braids, we can see the strands and interconnections more clearly, and each strand in the braid remains distinct; whereas in a weave, it is difficult to see individual strands and their distinct identities and forms.) In may ways, a lesson is braided in that we are constantly, at the same time, holding on to different layers of learning – the content, concepts, context(s) and construct as it applies to our plans and as it applies to each learner’s experience.
The dimension of simultaneity in the classroom is described by Costa and Garmston (2013) as the ability of the teacher to hold many layers of conscious intentions at the same time. For example, in any given unit of inquiry, a teacher might keep in mind the learning target for the particular lesson, while also being mindful of the conceptual framework; the content that best unpacks and illustrates the conceptual focus; the skills that are targeted for the unit; when to rehearse; the different entry points and pathways individual students might choose to take toward understanding; and a myriad of other, equally important learning events happening at the same time.
Dimensions of Metacognition
Metacognition is a person’s capacity to “stand outside themselves” (Costa and Garmston, 2013, p. 143) and hold at least two threads of thinking at the same time: the thinking that follows the logic and flow of the intended learning experience and all that the teacher does to make it happen, as well as the thinking about his or her words and actions and thinking as he or she facilitates the learning. Teachers who are metacognitive thinkers and emotionally intelligent, for instance, constantly read the learners in the room. They take in the nonverbal cues from students and adjust accordingly. They are always making careful and attentive observations and choose congruent behaviors to either slow down, speed up, pause for rehearsal, and other instructional decisions that arise form their own metacognition.
Metacognition is an additional source of time dimensions because of lesson factors such as pace, self-correction, pedagogical prioritizing, and reflection.
Pace is an important part of metacognition. Assessing the environment and the students’ responses in light of the learning targets and the process among other factors pose questions like whether the teacher should go faster or slow down, when to pause and reteach in different ways, and how to support students who have already learned the material, students who need more time or ways to access it, and all the conditions in between.
An effective teacher uses his or her metacognitive thinking to discern a complex set of influences on their instruction. For instance, she might ask questions like:
- How does my own set of learning preferences and strengths hinder my understanding of how my students might experience the lesson?
- Do I understand how they struggle with concepts I naturally grasped when I was their grade level?
- What big ideas are we touching on? What universal, human contexts might they anchor this concept to?
- How do I know each student grasps the concept?
- Are my students gaining a better understanding of how context frames their learning? Can they shift perspective?
Teachers self-correct based on thousands of different data points they glean from the environment, including their reading of the learners in the room. This self-correction is a series of time decisions because what’s important to the learners does take more time, take less time, and/or repurposes the time allocated for lessons.
Teachers have a wide range of instructional strategies that they might call upon in planning and also implement during ‘teachable moments’ that emerge from classroom events. When teachers have to shift instruction suddenly due to cues from how the learners are responding and events in the classroom, the prioritizing that happens results in somewhat different uses of time than what might have been previously planned.
Flexible teachers recognize that learning is not one-size-fits-all, and the priorities he or she decided upon might change due to previous learning or levels of readiness in the students.
The craftsman-like teacher is continually learning to expand their quiver of instructional strategies to address the many ways students can meet learning targets.
Reflection is understood to be looking back at self. Teachers who use time to reflect on practice generally are self-directed learners. They self-monitor, self-modify and self-manage (Costa and Garmston, 2013).
When teachers reflect about a lesson or unit, they are essentially taking time to self-assess whether their intentions (learning targets or objectives) align with the outcomes (assessment of learning).
Often, reflection is done after an event, such as a lesson or after having taught a unit. Reflection is metacognitive thinking in that it can also happen at the moment of action. This type of reflection might be akin to mindfulness because using metacognitive thinking, a person can “know intentions and choose congruent behaviors” (Costa and Garmston).
Reflection can greatly impact the efficiency of instruction as it might yield a panoramic consciousness of all that schools do (Dufour and Dufour, 1998).
- What will our students learn?
- How do we know they are learning?
- How will we respond when they are not learning?
- How will we respond when they already know it?
The many ways that teachers have to consider time and its dimensions in the classroom is complex, adaptive work.
Monarch emerging from coccoon By Seney Natural History Association – A Monarch Emerging from Cocoon, CC BY-SA 2.0
Dufour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Costa A. and Garmston, R. (2013). Cognitive Coaching; Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.