Students Waste Time
In our previous segment we learned that incentive systems teach lessons. We might give our teenager an allowance, for example, not only because they need money, but also as a means of teaching money management.
What resource do students waste in the classroom? They waste time! They spend it as though it had no value. Dawdling is an art form. Students waste a sizeable portion of your instructional time during each class period by simply “going slow” at every opportunity.
Why do students dawdle? Because, if they were to hustle and save time, they would get more work. They dawdle because they want less work. If you want students to hustle, you must construct an incentive system that gives them a very good reason to hustle.
Teaching Time Management
From our previous segment we know that, in order to learn money management, the first thing a teenager must have is money. They cannot learn money management if they have no money to manage.
So, what is the first thing that students must have in order to learn time management? They must have time, of course.
We must, however, teach time management to the entire class. Any one student can waste time for the group. It is hard to get started, for example, until everyone is seated. So, we must devise a group management system. Furthermore, it must have sophisticated fail-safe mechanisms to keep one contrary student from ruining it for the rest of the group. We will name this advanced system of group management Responsibility Training.
An Allowance of Preferred Activity Time
In order for the class to have some time to manage, we begin by giving the class an “allowance” of time. As with money management, the purpose of this allowance is to provide us with an opportunity to teach a lesson. If we structure the incentive system properly, we will be able to teach time management to the entire class quickly and efficiently.
The time that we give the class must, however, be desired or “preferred” by the students to the extent that they will work for it. The only type of reinforcer that fills time is an activity of some sort. The allowance of time that we give to the class will, therefore, be referred to as “Preferred Activity Time” or PAT.
One question that is always asked by someone in a workshop at this point is, “What do the students have to do in order to earn PAT?” This question is conditioned by decades of classroom incentives that are built around Grandma’s Rule: You have to finish your dinner before you get your dessert. It seems wrong to give the “dessert” without first seeing some work.
We have used the analogy of teaching a teenager to be responsible with money in order to get enough distance from Grandma’s Rule to allow us to see incentive management through new eyes. In the design of an incentive system, sometimes you give in order to get.
I gave my son his allowance. He did not earn the allowance by being paid, for example, for doing chores around the house. I did not want to train him to think, “What will you pay me?” every time I asked for a little help. Chores were handled separately from the allowance.
The allowance was given for two reasons: first, teenagers need money, and second, I could exploit that need to teach money management. But the money itself was a gift. It was a gift with an educational purpose – as is PAT.
PAT Increases Learning Time
I have no intention of losing learning time as the price of supplying the students with PAT. Quite the opposite, I am supplying the students with PAT in order to increase learning time.
You can gain nearly a full instructional period during the day in a self-contained classroom by simply training the students to manage two routines more responsibly: a) starting class on time, and b) hustling during lesson transitions. You can gain additional instructional time during the day by eliminating students’ showing up without pencils or sharpening pencils during class. Doing other routines and chores quickly throughout the day can increase learning time even further while reducing teacher stress.
All of the time that you set aside for PAT, therefore, is “found time.” You will not relinquish one minute of time from your instructional program. To the contrary, if you do not give the class PAT in order to teach them time management, they will waste the time as usual, and you will have nothing to show for it.
There is a second dividend to be gained from giving PAT, lest you think that this program will cost you anything. The PAT itself will not be time away from learning. Rather, you will use PAT for learning. In subsequent installments we will find that you can teach any lesson as a PAT – from skill drill to test review to vocabulary. In addition, since I cannot give you an extra planning period, it must require no extra effort.
How Much PAT?
How much time does your class need for PAT? To put it simply, you need enough time in order to do something worthwhile. Teachers might begin with 10 to 30 minutes depending on how often they have PAT during the week.
How often should you have PAT? Let’s begin by defining the time frame for Responsibility Training. The time frame for the program runs from the beginning of one PAT to the beginning of the next PAT. Consequently, the students are always on the program, even during PAT.
The time frame for students of a given age is keyed to the amount of time they can delay gratification and exert impulse control. It is, therefore, a function of social maturity rather than chronological age. Consequently, the following norms should be thought of as general guidelines that you might need to tailor to the social maturity of your particular students.
Kindergarten: Kindergarten students usually have to get up and move every 15 to 20 minutes, and their level of impulse control is nothing to write home about. Consequently, a kindergarten teacher may want to have PAT every 15 minutes or so. The very notion of having PAT that often would be overwhelming if PAT required much planning and effort. It must, therefore, be cheap and easy for the teacher to implement.
First Grade: To be conservative, you would probably want to start the first grade year with three PATs in the morning and two PATs in the afternoon. However, by midyear most first grade classes only need three a day – mid-morning, end of morning, and end of afternoon. Do not attempt to get by with only one in the morning before lunch, or you will find that the students consistently “lose it” after 10:30.
Second and Third Grades: At some time during second or third grade, most classes can go to two PATs a day – one before lunch and one at the end of the day. Fading the schedule of PATs, however, is always a judgment call. You can tell if you have been premature in thinning the schedule if you find the students “losing it” during the hour prior to PAT.
Fourth and Fifth Grades: At some time during fourth or fifth grade, most classes will be ready for a single PAT at the end of the day. While PATs become less frequent as the students mature, it would be inaccurate to think that we are attempting to reduce the amount of PAT.
As PATs become less frequent, they become longer. While a first grade teacher might set aside 10 to 15 minutes for each PAT three times a day, a fifth grade teacher might set aside 30 minutes for a single PAT at the end of the day.
Middle and High School: While sixth grade often retains the same pattern as fifth grade, sometime before high school most classrooms go to one PAT per week. As an interim pattern, teachers may have PAT twice a week, on Wednesday and Friday.
An alternative pattern in departmentalized settings is to have 5 to 10 minutes of PAT at the end of each class period. As such, it is typically an integral part of that day’s lesson. Often, students play a learning game to review what was just taught.
Learning to Give
Cooperation is a gift. In order to learn habits of cooperation, children must be taught to give. They are learning to give cooperation to you. But, you can only teach giving through giving.
This giving by students usually takes the form of being considerate of others. When students waste time, they not only make the teacher’s job more difficult, but they also take time from their classmates, most of whom are just sitting and waiting for activities to begin.
To say that children tend to be self-absorbed is something of an understatement. For children to consider the needs of others, they must be taught to consider the needs of others. Maturity does not come from the simple passage of time.
As teachers, some of the most important lessons we teach are lessons about life. If we understand how to design incentive systems, these lessons about life can be learned reasonably quickly and with a sense of joy. The next installment will focus on the nuts and bolts of teaching students to hustle while they earn additional PAT.