Eliminating Wasted Time
The Joys of Dawdling
For students, dawdling is an art form. No matter how much time you give them for a lesson transition, they will need more. They walk nonchalantly to the pencil sharpener, socialize as they slowly turn the handle, and then saunter toward their seats as they finish their conversations.
There is no reason to hustle. Students know that as soon as the lesson transition is over, you will put them back to work. They have a vested interest in dawdling.
For this reason lesson transitions are one of the great sinkholes of lost learning time in the classroom. A typical lesson transition takes about five minutes. If students were to hustle, the transition could be accomplished in 30 seconds. During the course of a day the difference between dawdling and hustling adds up to a lot of lost learning time.
But, for students to trade in their leisurely habits, they will have to have a good reason.
Start with an Allowance
Imagine that you want to train your teenager to be responsible with money. In order to do this, what is the first thing your teenager would need to have?
Your answer, no doubt, is “money.” In order to train a teenager in money management, they will need to have some money to manage.
How do they get the money? In fact, that is the least critical aspect of the program. They can earn it, or you can give it to them in the form of an allowance. Both variations work perfectly well.
Having money to manage simply sets the stage for the learning of responsibility. Having to cover expenses while living within a strict budget teaches the teenager to save for important things rather than squandering on unimportant things.
This example provides us with a model for time management. Students waste learning time all day long as though there were an unlimited supply, and it had no value. To teach them otherwise, we will have to give them an allowance of time – not because we are willing to give up learning time, but, rather, because it is the only way to begin time management training for the class.
Preferred Activity Time
We will begin time management training, therefore, with a gift – an “allowance” of time. To serve as an incentive, this time must be desirable – something the students look forward to and are willing to work for. It is special time to do a special activity – a special learning activity. Let’s call this allowance of time “Preferred Activity Time” or PAT.
How often should you have PAT? It depends on the age and social maturity of the students. As general guidelines, a first grade teacher might have two PATs in the morning and one in the afternoon for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. A third grade teacher might have one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And a fifth grade teacher might have one at the end of the day for 20 minutes.
At the secondary level many teachers have PAT once a week for a half-hour. Other teachers have a 10 minute PAT at the end of each class period in which they use learning games to review material taught earlier in the period.
What will you do for PAT? The most common PATs are enrichment activities and learning games, but anything goes. You will find plenty of PAT ideas in chapter 23 of Tools for Teaching, and you will find an entire PAT Bank here on our site.
Hurry-up Bonus from Family Life
Hustle is produced when a Hurry-up Bonus is added to PAT. 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. When I was a little kid, 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 knew that the faster we moved, the more time we would have for stories. And, the more we dawdled, the less time we would have for stories.
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? 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 we could have the full half-hour for 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.
A Hurry-up Bonus in the Classroom
Now let’s apply what we have learned from the bedtime routine to a lesson transition. When you announce the lesson transition, it might sound like this:
“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. So, let’s see 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.”
For your time frame, estimate how long the routine would take if the students hustled. Then round that number up to the next whole minute and double it.
As you can see, it is not PAT that generates hustle. PAT simply sets the stage. It is the bonus PAT that generates hustle. It is bonus PAT that gives the entire class a vested interest in making the lesson transition as short as possible. It is bonus PAT that empowers the students.
A Hurry-up Bonus is group management – “all for one, and one for all.” It gives members of the class a reason to manage each other. But, you still have an important role to play.
The incentive is not strong enough to override all of the tendencies toward goofing off in a room full of students. As soon as you say, “Okay, let’s begin,” you start working the crowd. If you find students standing around or chit-chatting, you simply walk up to them and wait. This is classic “management by walking around,” and it is usually enough to remind the students to get moving.
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 tally.”
You walk to the board and add a minute and seventeen seconds to their “allowance.” The students are all smiles.
The role into which you are consistently placed 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 the program – time loss.
The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away
Occasionally, in spite of your best efforts, the students run overtime. This is rare – usually a day that has the students preoccupied or excited. As you work the crowd during the transition, you get a sinking feeling as the time slips away. 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’re on your 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 to the left 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.
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 several of their classmates are urgently whispering, “Sit down! Sit down!”
A Matter of Giving
To make PAT work, however, you must first and foremost be a giver – like any loving parent. You give PAT, and you give bonus PAT to train the children to do the right thing. Time loss plays a minor but significant role in giving students a reason to say, “Sit down! Sit down!” when the situation calls for it.
Keep the tone of the Hurry-up Bonus positive. It is a win-win strategy. You are not forcing students to hustle. You are structuring a situation in which they choose to hustle. PAT with a Hurry-up Bonus is the alternative to nag, threaten and punish.
But, do not feel that you are “giving away learning time” when you post a bonus on your PAT tally. Bonus time is all “found time.” If you didn’t use it to train the kids to hustle, they would “steal it” and use it for “mini-vacations” between lessons.
“But what about the student that would ruin it for everybody just to be in control?” Relax. This program was developed for students with “acting out” problems. More details of implementation including fail-safe mechanisms can be found in chapter 22 of Tools for Teaching entitled Turning Problem Students Around.