The Nuts and Bolts of Time Management
Responsibility Training teaches students to be responsible with everything they do in the classroom from bringing pencils to hustling during lesson transitions. However, all of these various forms of responsible behavior can be organized under one single heading: learning to be responsible with time. In this segment, we will examine those procedures that train students to hustle in order to save learning time rather than dawdling in order to waste it.
The Teacher’s Role
The teacher’s role is divided into two parts: a) Giver, and b) Timekeeper.
In training students to be responsible, the teacher is first and foremost a giver. We give in order to teach giving – the giving of cooperation.
We will give generously. If we err, we will err in the direction of giving. If we give a little extra, no damage is done. But if we do not give enough, we can starve the program.
The teacher will give three gifts:
PAT: The first gift that the teacher will give is Preferred Activity Time (PAT). PAT does not change behavior. Rather, it sets the stage for the use of bonus PAT. Think of PAT as a “pump primer.”
Bonus PAT: The second gift that the teacher will give is bonus PAT. Bonus PAT changes behavior while empowering students. Bonus PAT is the heart of Responsibility Training.
Structure for PAT: The third gift that the teacher will give is structure for PAT. PAT is structured time, not free time. PAT is time that is structured for learning. Its objective is to make learning fun.
As mentioned in the previous segment, students are expert time-wasters. If students were to use their time efficiently, much of the goofing off in the classroom would immediately disappear. Responsibility training, therefore, achieves many different management objectives simultaneously by training students to manage time wisely.
As part of time management, the teacher must keep track of time. In all cases it will be real time – time that any student in the class could read off of the wall clock.
The Students’ Role
The teacher gives the students time, and the students decide how the time will be spent. Students learn to take responsibility for their actions by making choices about the use of time and then living with the consequences.
Squander or Save
While students are given the power to choose how their time will be spent, their range of choices is very limited.
Squander and be selfish: Students can squander time by being out of their seats when the bell rings, by sharpening pencils during class, or by dawdling during lesson transitions. These various forms of time-wasting constitute little vacations from work that students take at will.
But, these mini-vacations are not shared by the class. Rather, they are taken by individuals while the rest of the group waits. This is very selfish.
What if the students got to keep the time that they usually squandered so the whole group could use it for something they enjoyed? This would create a vested interest in saving rather than squandering.
The time that the students save is called “bonus PAT.” It is the bonus PAT that empowers the students to increase PAT by saving time.
An Analogy from Family Life
Hurry-up Bonuses are familiar to most of us from everyday family life. Moms and dads have used them since time began.
The most common example of a Hurry-up Bonus around the house is the bedtime routine. My mother would say:
“All right kids, it is 8:30 – time to get ready for bed. Wash your face, brush your teeth and get your pajamas on. As soon as you are in bed, it will be story time. But lights out at nine o’clock.”
My brother and I well understood that the faster we moved, the more time we would have for stories. And we also knew that dawdling reduced the length of story time.
Teaching Responsibility through Empowerment
In the bedtime routine the PAT is, of course, story time. But, during the bedtime routine, who is in control of the amount of story time that the children receive? During training, teachers respond in unison, “The children.”
Indeed, the children are in complete control. If they choose to hustle, they will maximize the duration of story time. But, if they choose to dawdle, they will reduce the duration of story time. My brother and I got into the habit of being ready before 8:30 so that we could have a full half-hour of stories.
Understanding the nature of a simple choice made by children at bedtime teaches us one of the most important lessons about learning to be responsible: People will only take responsibility for things that they control.
Making choices implies that we have some control over our destiny. If we do not control the outcome of our actions, then choice is a sham since our efforts are to no avail. Before people will learn to make wise choices, therefore, they must:
know how to use it
Our job as teachers is first, to empower the students to make choices, and then, to teach them to make good choices. Responsibility Training, therefore, is a teaching paradigm.
Mechanics of the Hurry-up Bonus
One of the greatest hemorrhages of time-on-task in any classroom is the lesson transition. A lesson transition usually takes about five minutes.
During these lesson transitions students move in a most unhurried fashion as they hand in papers, sharpen pencils, get drinks, move furniture into or out of groups, and get out materials. There is utterly no sense of urgency. Obviously, students like nice big, unhurried breaks with brief lessons sandwiched in between. They know that, as soon as the transition is over, it will be time to get back to work.
Your average lesson transition can easily be accomplished in half-a-minute if the students choose to hustle. But, why would the students hustle if hustling only puts them back to work sooner?
To see how a lesson transition can be accomplished in half-a-minute, let’s walk through a transition that contains a Hurry-up Bonus.
“Class, before you get out of your seats, let me tell you what I want you to do during this lesson transition. First, hand in your papers by laying them on the corner of my desk. Then, if you need to sharpen your pencils, this is the time to do it. If you need a drink of water, this is the time to get it.
“I want my clean-up committee to erase my boards and straighten up the books on the shelf. I want everybody to pick up any paper you see laying around the room and get your desks back on their marks.
“I will give you two minutes to get this done. But you know from past experience that you can get it done in half-a-minute or less. So, let’s see hustle and how much time you can save. All of the time you save will be added to your PAT.
“Let’s check the clock. (Pause until the second hand passes the six or twelve.) Okay, let’s begin.”
Being Generous with Time
While it takes students half-a-minute for a typical lesson transition if they hustle, in the preceding example I gave them two minutes. Be generous in the giving of time. If you err, err in the direction of generosity. My rule of thumb for determining the amount of time allotted for the completion of a routine is to:
If it would take 2 to 3 minutes to clean up after a project, round up to three minutes and then double it to six.
As the students get up from their desks, you immediately begin to work the crowd. Your primary objective as you work the crowd is to eliminate the “bootleg reinforcement” that is part of any lesson transition.
Bootleg reinforcement is an incentive for goofing off that is delivered by the peer group. Imagine, for example, three students standing around the pencil sharpener talking. The reinforcer for socializing is socializing. It is a self-reinforcing behavior.
This bootleg incentive system is competing with your incentive system, the Hurry-up Bonus. In this competition, the bootleg incentive usually wins. One of the main attributes of a reinforcer that determines its power is immediacy of delivery. The bootleg incentive usually wins the competition because it is being delivered now, whereas the PAT will not be delivered until much later.
One of your primary objectives in classroom management is to get a monopoly on incentives. This is done by suppressing the goofing off that is self-reinforcing. If you fail to do this, the students’ bootleg incentives will constantly neutralize your incentive system.
Teachers get a monopoly on incentives primarily through working the crowd, otherwise known as “management by walking around.” Just walk up to the students who are chatting , get close and wait patiently. The students, well aware of what they should be doing, typically give you a self-conscious grin accompanied by some silly talk.
“I was just going to sharpen my pencil.”
As the students “get on the ball,” you stroll over to the four students standing around the drinking fountain and repeat the drill. As always, by working the crowd you “disrupt the disruption.” In addition, by sheer proximity, you continually prompt the students to pick up paper, arrange the furniture properly, etc.
The nemesis of working the crowd during a lesson transition is a student who says to you, “May I ask you a question?” This student could be a future Rhodes Scholar or the biggest “clinger” in the classroom. It makes no difference. Your answer is always the same.
“As soon as we are back in our seats.”
During a lesson transition, you have far more important jobs to do than instruction. If you want a quick lesson transition, you must work at it. A lesson transition is perhaps the most concentrated example of classroom management during the entire school day. Thinking of it as a “break” represents a classic rookie error.
All for One, and One for All
As the lesson transition nears completion, you head to the front of the room. Imagine, however, that, as you make a final check around the room, you see some crumpled paper on the floor over by the door. Most of the students are already seated, but one student is standing near the paper. As you point, you say:
“Class, there is a piece of paper over there on the floor.”
Can you imagine the student who is standing near the paper saying,
“It’s not mine.”
Simply look at the student and shrug. After all, it is not your problem.
What do you think several classmates seated nearby will say to the student standing near the paper?
“Pick it up! Pick it up!”
Welcome to “all for one, and one for all.” You have just observed peer pressure in the form that it almost always takes in Responsibility Training – urgent whispers.
Wrapping Up the Transition
As the last student sits down, you say,
“Thank you class for doing such a good job of cleaning up and arranging your desks. Let’s check the time. You saved one minute and seventeen seconds. Let’s add that to our PAT.”
You walk to the board and add a minute and seventeen seconds to the PAT. The students are all smiles.
The role into which you are consistently placed by Responsibility Training is benevolent parent. You give time, you protect time, and you congratulate the group for saving time. Your benevolence, however, is tempered by the next component of Responsibility Training, time loss.
The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away
Our incentive system is far more complex than the simple giving of a reinforcer. The first complication with Hurry-up Bonuses results from the fact that you can’t win ‘em all. Some days, in spite of your best efforts, the Hurry-up Bonus bombs as the students run overtime. This can happen for legitimate reasons which may include any combination of the following:
As you work the crowd during the lesson transition, you feel the time slipping away. You work the crowd and prompt the students with increased urgency, but to little avail. The students seem to be moving in slow motion.
With fifteen seconds left in the allotted time, you head to the front of the classroom. You stand calmly facing the students and look at the clock as the time runs out. Then, as you point to the clock, you say,
“Class, you are on your own time now.”
Relax and wait for the last student to be seated. Then say,
“Thank you, class, for straightening up the room and getting back in your seats.”
Then, after taking a second to look at the clock, walk to the board and record the time consumed under your PAT tally. The tally has two columns, one for time gain and one for time loss.
The tally in the example below would indicate that the students have saved time during two previous lesson transitions but have lost five seconds during this one. This example is actually quite representative of the proportion of time gain versus time loss in Responsibility Training.
As you can see, the system is rigged so that the students come out ahead. When they gain, they gain in minutes. But, if they lose, they only lose in seconds. Five seconds actually represents a rather large time loss. It usually takes only two or three seconds for students to get into their seats when classmates are urgently whispering,
“Sit down! Sit down!”
However, the time loss component of Responsibility Training is both necessary and the bane of my existence. It is necessary because Responsibility Training does not work consistently without it. And it is the bane of my existence because it opens the door to abuse by poorly trained or negativistic teachers.
Time Loss Produces Consistent Success
First, let’s deal with Responsibility Training working consistently. Responsibility Training is group management: all for one, and one for all. Turning management over to the peer group has significant advantages:
However, without a time loss component within Responsibility Training, the peer group lets you down just when you need them. The many do not stand up for themselves as their time is being wasted by the few. They just sit there and let it happen.
This tendency of the many to act like sheep comes from the natural awkwardness of any student taking a public stand for righteousness. Imagine, for example, that during a typical five-minute lesson transition, some student were to stand up and say,
“Class, some of us are dawdling and wasting valuable learning time. I wish everyone would just hurry-up so that we could get back to work.”
While voicing a noble sentiment, this “goodie-two-shoes” has just distinguished him or herself as being the biggest dweeb on the continent.
If you want students to help you enforce your classroom standards, you must give them a reason for doing so that does not make them look like a bunch of dweebs. Enlightened self-interest is the ticket. The time loss component of Responsibility Training gives the students a plausible vested interest in enforcing your standards. A student does not have to be a dweeb to say,
“Sit down! You’re wasting PAT.”
Of course, you would not want students to become overzealous with rule enforcement so that they would get nasty. Nor would you want to make any student into a scapegoat.
Don’t worry. There is much less of a tendency in that direction than you might think. Here are some of the reasons that overzealousness is all but nonexistent:
Students will not allow it. They look at the overzealous student in an irked fashion and say something like, “Chill out.”
You will not allow it. You can set limits on it just like you would with any other form of disruption.
There is little reason for it to occur. When the few can no longer abuse the many, you find that there is much less latent animosity between students that might surface at such times in the form of rude remarks.
Time Loss Opens the Door to Abuse
Next, let’s deal with the fact that the time loss condition within Responsibility Training is the bane of my existence. Can you imagine a colleague who is a bit negative or burned-out saying to the class,
“All right, class, it is only Wednesday, and you have already lost half of your PAT. If we continue like this, there will be no PAT this week!”
This teacher is obviously using Responsibility Training as a weapon by abusing the time loss condition. When used properly, time is lost in seconds rather than in minutes, and even then, time is lost only rarely. Furthermore, time loss typically self-eliminates in a matter of days or weeks so that thereafter it exists in the students’ minds as a potentiality rather than as an actuality.
For teachers to take large amounts of PAT from the students, they must be:
Poorly Trained: This can easily occur when a teacher hears about parts of this system second-hand – often from a well-intentioned colleague who has been to a workshop. Since the manipulation of PAT smacks of “instant cure,” teachers are tempted to try it without other elements of the program being in place. When time loss is used for high-rate behaviors such as talking to neighbors and out of seat that are the proper domain of working the crowd and Limit Setting, excessive time loss is the natural outcome.
Extremely Negative: Teachers can be negative for a variety of reasons ranging from exhaustion to career burn-out to a personality problem. When negativism is chronic, abuse of time loss will be chronic. When time loss becomes excessive, students become resentful and cooperation ceases.
As was mentioned at the beginning, Responsibility Training teaches students to be responsible with everything they do in the classroom from bringing pencils to hustling during lesson transitions. In this segment, we have looked at training students to hustle. In the next segment we will extend Responsibility Training to a broad range of situations in which students’ irresponsibility will cost you additional time and energy.