December 11, 2020

Maximizing Learning Time in the Classroom

The Teachers’ Corner:

For most of my years as a high school English teacher, I started my lesson in the same way: Check attendance, call in late assignments, check on earlier unexplained absences etc. – all the administrative duties that plague classroom teachers. When I became a high school principal, I still kept on teaching a Grade 9 English class (much to the consternation of my colleagues) but started to read more deeply into the concept of instructional effectiveness as a prelude to my duties associated with supervising teachers in the classroom.

One of the sub-sets that interested me the most in instructional effectiveness was the concept of maximizing learning time. That’s when I began to look at how I used my own classroom learning time so I did a little action research – and was astounded at what I found.

On average it took me between 5-7 minutes (of a 50 minute period) per class to complete the above administrivia. That’s somewhere between 10-14% of available classroom time! It’s not that these tasks were not important (or required) but it meant that all the other students were “hanging around” waiting for the lesson to begin while I was focusing on the miscreants! What a waste of time for everyone!

That’s when I fell in love with the teachings of the late Madeline Hunter. Madeline Hunter was to guide my own teaching and my supervision of teachers throughout the rest of my career – and several of her pronouncements are going to be highlighted in “The Teacher’s Corner” over the coming weeks and months.

In this case, it’s the concept of “anticipatory set.” What Hunter means by this is setting up the class for learning immediately when the kids enter the classroom. More specifically, it means having a quick 3-5 minute task on the blackboard, the white board or the old overhead that causes kids to sit down immediately upon entering the classroom and get into a learning state of mind. It took a while for me to establish the pattern when I started the technique in the middle of the year but when I introduced it at the beginning of the next year, it quickly became an established part of my expectations for my students – and for them as they took their seats.

This anticipatory set has three main purposes. It can be:
a) Diagnostic – What do the kids know about what I am going to teach today?
b) Review – What do the kids remember about some aspect of the unit I taught two week ago?
c) Anticipation – What question will perk their interest about something we are about to do today.

Use one only of the above that suits the lesson you are about to teach.

In the meantime, while the kids are answering the question, you are completing the administrative tasks at the same time – but the kids have already started on the learning.

Dr. Dan

Take advantage of one of our several webinars that covers Hunter’s work including Anticipatory Set and Checking for Understanding”.  It’s time well spent – for you and for the kids.