It's the beginning of your class, there is a bellringer on the board (as there has been each day for the last 3 months), yet you still have a handful of students who don't seem to realize. The rest of the class is done and ready to go, but you end up delaying the start of class because you see that a couple kids are just now getting their paper out or maybe they are still chatting with their friends.
- Tell them how much time they will have (5-7 minutes or so) to complete the task.
- Set a timer that is clearly visible to all students. I like to set an online timer since I am a traveling teacher and I need to carry as few things with me as possible. There are also timer or stopwatch apps if you are looking for something a bit fancier. Your cell phone also most likely has this feature. If you work with younger kids who may need a little extra visual support, check out this cool teacher timer set up like a traffic light.
What about those times when you know your students are rushing through tasks that could be done better if they would just slow down and focus? For example, when I give an assessment of any kind, it is important to me that students take their time and I also want to encourage them to read over what they have written to catch any errors. I can't force them to do this, but I can create a situation in which there is no advantage to NOT doing it.
- Set a minimum amount time that students must work on the task and do not accept any papers before that time. Students are welcome to take MORE time, they just can not take less.
- A general rule I use is to allow for 2 minutes per item; 1 minute for the initial response and 1 minute to review/reconsider the same response. So, for a writing assessment where I am asking students to write 5-7 sentences (assuming the average student will write 6), I would ask them to spend at least 12 minutes with their paper.
What about just your normal, everyday class? I am sure you have heard the saying "time flies when you are having fun". Well, time also flies when your students are continually engaged. Your students have most likely dropped hints as to how they perceive time when they are in your room. Have you ever heard these things come out of the mouths of your students?
"How many minutes do we have left?"
"It's only 00:00?"
"How much longer do we have?"
"This class goes so slow."
Or perhaps you have heard these:
"Oh man, the bell is about to ring (surprised tone)!"
"Class is over already?"
"This class goes so fast!"
These are all ways kids have of telling you how engaged they were during the class time. If kids are involved in their learning they will lose track of class time, much like it is easy for us to lose time reading blogs :) If students are passive during the class time (sometimes of their own choosing) they will keep a close eye on that clock and that "watched pot" will never seem to boil. Surely not every day can be fun and games, but here are some tips to make the days where time flies happen more often.
- Plan activities that match the attention spans of your students. The average attention span for teenagers is between 10-15 minutes. That means that in an hour long class, you should be planning 4-6 different activities.
- Plan activities that allow students to move. Station activities, centers, or writing walkabouts are great for this. Each time a student moves they have a chance to refocus for a new period of time. Many teachers also employ brain breaks as a way to reset the attention span of their students.
- If you have students on the lower end of the attention span spectrum, get them moving by performing tasks for you during class time. Have them collect papers, stand up to explain something, retrieve something for you, or get up to write an answer on the board.
I'm not bringing up these things because you don't know them, in fact I am sure that you have heard many of them before. I am telling you to remind you that you are not a bad teacher because your kids can't sit perfectly quiet with their arms folded on their desks for an hour. You do not lack classroom management skills because your students don't get started on every task right away or are sneaking texts to their friends underneath their desks. You are simply dealing with teenagers, teenagers with short attention spans.
Oh, and here is the bad news (I'm saving it for the end hoping that your own attention span didn't allow you to get all the way to the end of this article)...
Our attentions spans are getting shorter and shorter as a result of technology. Just imagine how short the attention spans of our students will be by the time we are able to retire!