Time management is a real problem for all teachers. There is simply not enough time in the school day, so skilled management is necessary. Here are some suggestions for making the most of the time you have:
- Analyze your schedule and set priorities. Categorize activities as high priority — for example, children's reading, writing, and oral language learning — and low priority. Be ruthless in cutting down on the time for low-priority items.
- Cluster activities such as music and art to give yourself a longer planning time and to cause fewer interruptions of reading and writing time.
- Offer immediate activities for children to do as soon as they come into the room. In many schools, children arrive at staggered times. Many teachers have children begin to read from book boxes or write in their journals.
- Streamline housekeeping by creating efficient ways to accomplish tasks, such as taking the roll and determining lunch status with a sign-in board.
- Keep materials accessible quickly to children. For example, one teacher I know has children's folders (color-coded by subject) in different crates. The children are divided into committees of five, and each committee has its folders in one crate. The crates are in different parts of the room. When children need to retrieve their writing workshop folders, they scatter to different points of the room. Only five children are getting into a given crate to retrieve materials. This system eliminates the lines and inevitable delays that occur when all children are getting materials from one place.
- Use mini-lessons (quick, focused lessons) often. For a week or two, estimate the appropriate time for each mini-lesson you do. Set a cooking timer for the estimated time. When it goes off, are you still introducing the lesson? Are you halfway through? Are you writing the last examples on the chart? This exercise will help you be more aware of pacing in the lesson.
- Simplify school routines. Work with your colleagues and the principal of your school to establish efficient routines. For example, the staff member who picks up your lunch schedule and attendance does not need to interrupt instruction if you have an established system.
- Talk less. Keep your lessons moving fast. While it is important for you to have conversations with the children, you will find that the less talking you do, the more children will learn.
- Set up systems for yourself so that you can efficiently accomplish tasks. For example, establish a system of checking reading journals over the week. Some teachers have the Monday Kids, Tuesday Kids, etc. Students' journals are examined in turn, depending upon which day they are assigned to. This way, you have five to seven journals to look at each day rather than a whole pile at the end of the week.
- Try incidental teaching during in-between times in the day. If you have five minutes before lunch, you can review a mini-lesson or read aloud a bit of a familiar, well-loved story. If children are lining up, they can sing a song or enjoy shared chanting of a favorite poem (thus promoting phonemic awareness).
How can I keep children from interrupting me when I am working with small groups in guided reading?
Teaching routines explicitly will help. If you are being interrupted frequently, that means the children have not practiced the routines enough. Here are some tips:
- Practice using materials, both getting them and returning them. You will want to do this for one center at a time, starting with the materials needed most. Make a game out of it by asking children to point to (or say), as quickly as possible, where to get items such as markers, paper, and so on.
- List common problems, then teach children how to solve them. For example, spelling words are a common source of interruption. Teach students that if they do not know how to spell a word, they should: (1) look at their personal dictionary; (2) look at the word wall; or (3) say it slowly and get down as many letters as they can.
- Offer multilevel work with opportunities for the advanced students to go further and a simple version of the task for less advanced students.
- Analyze the interruptions you receive. Chances are, you will come up with four or five categories, such as: I don't know how to spell this word; I need to go to the bathroom; and I can't find.... Plan a mini-lesson for each category that you encounter. For example, provide a can of pre-sharpened pencils so that a student can take a new one if his or her pencil needs sharpening.
How do I do independent work and small-group instruction if I have a very small classroom?
It seems that classrooms are never big enough, but if you have a truly small space, here are some ideas:
- Clean house. Discard every single item that you do not absolutely need. You will be surprised how many materials are used seldomly or not at all. Examine all of your equipment, materials, and other items. If you did not use an item during the school year (or you only used it a few times), donate it or throw it away.
- Assign specific places for each item and be ruthless! Place each kind of material in one container. Label shelves and containers with words and icons so that it is easy to find where to put containers.
- Try smaller furniture, especially storage cabinets and shelves. Big cabinets or storage units can take up unnecessary space. A large teacher's desk may not be necessary, and large tables have useless space in the middle.
- Use efficient displays on your walls and other spaces. You can create display space (which can double as a reading activity, e.g. with a pocket chart) by placing a low shelf unit perpendicular to the wall. Children can use browsing boxes (in tubs on the shelves) on one side of the shelving; on the other side, they can work with a poem in a pocket chart.
- Demand double duty. Have some centers that are permanent and others that change so that you have only a few to set up. The afternoon art center, for example, can be the poetry center in the morning, where children post copies of the poems they read in shared reading.
How can I keep the noise level in my classroom within reasonable limits?
It is natural for young children to talk, laugh, and sometimes shout. If children have learned to talk loudly in one place, they can learn to talk softly in another place, especially when they are given a very good reason for it, like we talk softly so that all of us can do our best thinking. Here are some suggestions:
- Demonstrate voice modulation just as you would teach anything else — with a mini-lesson, with practice, and with self-evaluation. Through demonstration and practice, you can teach each of your students what "voices 0 through 4" mean (consider making a chart for the room outlining these sound levels). Then you can remind them (and refer to the chart on the wall) when an activity is to be conducted in a 0 or 1 voice. This helps them to know what you mean by "quiet."
- Plan for quiet. Plan the quieter centers for your literacy time; avoid blocks or drama, which naturally lend themselves to louder voices. You can also put noisier centers across the room from quieter centers.
- Get their attention. Above all, do not escalate the noise level by talking loudly yourself. Find some way (a soft bell tone will work) to get the attention of the whole class.
How can I keep children from fidgeting around and disengaging during whole-group instruction?
Here are some ideas to promote children's self-control when you are teaching:
- Make a group area, such as a rug or carpet squares, that will accommodate the entire class. Can all of the students sit comfortably, without touching anyone else?
- Check sightlines. Sit in a low chair right in front of the children. You should be able to see everyone, and they should be able to see you.
- Keep an empty area right in front of you so that children can quickly come up to the easel and stand comfortably when you are doing interactive writing.
- Have them sit up. Do not allow children to lie down even if they are quiet or you feel like putting up with it. It will be difficult for you to correct this behavior later.
- Watch their backs. Try seating your children with their backs toward a wall or bookshelf. Children may feel more secure if they have a place to sit within a defined area.
- Maintain a fast pace and keep your lessons within reasonable limits. Think about the amount of time you feel comfortable sitting on the floor. How long is it before you feel the need to stretch or change position?
How can I better manage my small-group reading instruction?
- Prepare your lessons in advance, a week or a few days at a time, by checking your running records and observational notes and thinking forward to the books that will be appropriate for reading lessons. Choose several books and have them available in multiple copies. Each day, think about the reading and confirm or change your book selection for the next day. On a sticky note, write key phrases for your introduction.
- Monitor children's talk carefully. If you sense that the discussion is rambling, gently guide students back to the text they are considering.
- Monitor time throughout the lesson. Gradually, you will learn how much of the text to have students read each day, and you will get better at selecting texts. For example, if the text is too hard, students will struggle with it and too much time will be required to read it. A well-selected text will mean that students can read most of the new book accurately, with a few problems to solve; consequently, the lesson can move along.
- Choose teaching points carefully so that you are not trying to do too much. If you do some word work, make it quick and like a game; one or two minutes is enough.
- Try two tables. If students are reading a longer section of text (and especially if they are reading silently), consider leaving them at the table to read while you do something else. In second-grade classrooms, two guided reading tables might be desirable. You can introduce a text and listen briefly to students read in the first group, then move away to introduce a text to the second group, again listening to a few children read before moving away. You can go back to the first group for discussion and word work, followed by a discussion with the second group. Many teachers even find time to confer with a few individuals and/or take a walk around the room between groups to support students' independent work.