time

Ways that Teachers Think about and Use Time in the Classroom

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.

Sequence

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.

Simultaneity

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

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.

Self-Correction

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.

Pedagogical priorities

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

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.

 

 

Photo Credit:
Monarch emerging from coccoon By Seney Natural History Association – A Monarch Emerging from Cocoon, CC BY-SA 2.0

References

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.

It’s About Time

Now that another academic year is drawing to a close, it’s a worthwhile reflection to think about how we have used our time to focus on learning.

It’s about time.

A school year for an international school runs for an average of 180 days. That’s only 420 minutes of learning opportunities structured in a day, and a total of 75,600 minutes of structured opportunities to learn in a school year.

When a school is not deliberate about designing how to use time effectively to maximize learning, the ultimate losers are students.

How do schools waste time, and what might be some ways to regain time in the next school year?

How Schools Waste Time

Ineffective use of allocated meeting time

If faculty groups meet once a week, this translates to around 36 meetings in a year. This is about 36-45 hours to make sure that there is a shared and common understanding of complex knowledge, such as how to write statements of understanding; how to plan units; standardizing criteria; how to effectively teach for transfer; developing progressions of learning; flagging concerns for intervention and developing interventions systematically. The list is endless of complex work that faculties have to revisit, resolve, and enact.

Ineffective meetings can put a halt to this complex work. Characterized by nostalgic monologues, tirades of problems without offering alternative solutions, and other soliloquy that are just plain resistance to change.

Procrastination of one becomes procrastination for the rest

Timelines are artifacts of interdependence. The actions in a timeline represent everyone’s success, and when one person or department drags the work back, it affects many others and their ability to successfully achieve something. So, one person procrastinating and/or resisting work effectively halts the group’s success.

Disregarding systems

Systems and structures in place ensure consistency and accountability. After all, school is predicated on a promise that the children we have in our care will learn and achieve [insert standards here] in any given school year.

Ignoring a system and its structures puts this promise at risk. Say a parent doesn’t like one of his child’s teachers, and he goes to another teacher who teaches the same subject without informing the current teacher of his child of his intentions. He asks to put his child in the second teacher’s class. This breach of communication lines for intervention creates a situation of conflict. Now someone has to mediate between the two teachers. Now someone has to spend time repairing the relational damage that has been done. All because a systemic procedure was disregarded (not to mention professional courtesy).

Drillers

Remember that famous anonymous analogy of organizations as a boat with everyone rowing? Well, sometimes we get people who are in the boat with everyone else and they hold drills in their hands. And they drill holes in the boat whilst everyone else rows.

Drilling can happen in many ways. One of the most unproductive behaviors that can drill holes in a boat is what the literature sometimes terms ‘parking lot meetings.’

Parking lot [or hallways or coffee break] meetings are essentially gripe sessions that have no other purpose than to not solve a problem. These private conversations usually do not involve the decision makers of the organization, so nothing gets done as a result except creating feelings of bad faith in the work.

Silos

So much research has been done on effective professional development and networking thinking. Standards for school implementation of programs like the IB, for instance, specifically ask schools to enact collaboration. The benefits of collaboration reflect the parallel pathways of globalization and the increasing need to nurture interdisciplinary problem-solving. After all, we know that problems aren’t subject-specific. World problems move back and forth across disciplinary lines. These interdisciplinary global issues necessarily ask of education to enact contextual resolutions in the simulations of the real world which teachers design into assessment tasks.

So when we insist on closing the door, ask people to remain within imaginary boundaries between subjects or departments, we invite obsolescence.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls given the fact that we understand the limits of time for co-constructing the school experience for our students?

Ways of Regaining Time

Use protocols, expect products

People have studied dynamical systems, which school is one. Adaptive SchoolsSM and its parent organization Thinking Collaborative have developed ways to use protocols to design the contact architecture for productive collaboration.

Clear expectations of what we want to achieve during a collaborative meeting helps to focus our work and supports the use of limited time.

Develop and clearly communicate timelines

Clear timelines for implementation is a necessity. Action plans, calendars and similar tools are readily available for faculty groups to use as they enact goals.

Breaking down large goals into manageable chunks of work help us to prioritize and celebrate incremental wins toward the big goal. Strategies like the target board and Gantt time management tools are useful tools in developing clear timelines.

Clearly communicate systems and how they work

Conscious thought as an interdependent individual is vital. Recognizing that as independent agents, our own capacities and work impact the effectiveness and success of others is a trait of people who are interdependent.

Communicating the ways that individuals’ work relates to the work of the group helps in increasing this mental resource of consciousness and supports thinking toward becoming more aware of how our own inaction impacts the direction and journey of others.

We may also be mindful of the implementation dip and support each other as we learn to rise above the temporary dip.

Invite drillers to stop drilling and join the ones who are rowing

Often, drillers are not aware that they are drilling. They might think they are being helpful. Pointing out the differences between productive talk (putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions) and unproductive talk (rumor and complaint) might help drillers to increase awareness on how the ways that they communicate affect the ways the work progresses in positive or negative ways.

Build in collaborative time and communicate expectations for implementation, work on collaboration and operationalize a way of being

Breaking down silos is long, complex work. Collaboration is not a natural skill but is one that needs to be learned and developed. Adaptive SchoolsSM has developed a set of norms of collaboration. Deliberately taking the time to learn, rehearse and assess these norms is one way of encouraging collaboration.

Structures need to be in place for collaboration to occur. Placing collaboration in the work schedule emphasizes its importance to the organization. Carefully planning meetings so they are not memo-meetings but learning engagements, highlights the importance of working together to achieve common goals.

Time in schools and for schools is more than creating a calendar for 180 days.

Working with our use of time is about the reason why we gather each school year: to facilitate learning and achievement.

And how might we then use this scarce resource to maximize our purpose?

 

 

Photo Credit:

Featured photo Helping Hand By Emile Renouf (1845-1894) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Beach cottage life by (c) Rene Marie Photography.