Do you waste learning time?

I used to think… Now I think‘ is one of the most powerful thinking tools (Visible Thinking routines). It allows you to grow, without having to have been wrong. It allows me to develop my ideas, change my practice, increase my understanding, deepen my thinking… and change my mind.

I used to think that the more tightly I kept control, the more efficiently time would be used in the classroom so that more learning could take place.

Now I think that the more I let go, the less time will be wasted on management, control, delivery and work… and the more time there will be for learning.

Here’s an example:
Scenario 1
The class sits in a circle to discuss an interesting issue. students raise their hands when they have something to share or ask. The teacher ensures everyone has an opportunity to speak. He often rephrases what students say in order to clarify or validate contributions. Many students spend long periods of time listening passively (or not listening at all) while they wait for an opportunity to engage. the teacher spends a fair bit of time asking people to be quiet, pay attention, stop fiddling, raise their hands, not talk while someone else is talking…

Scenario 2
The same discussion takes place in small groups and the teacher moves between groups, listening, occasionally asking a key question, listening, requesting clarification or justification, listening. Students practice effective communication by listening and speaking one at a time, but in a natural conversational style, without raising their hands. All the students are more actively involved in the conversation. They are not expected to share details with the whole class, although they might be asked to share only the most interesting or the most contentious point that was raised.

There are so many routines and procedures that happen in classrooms, just because that’s the way they have ‘always’ been done.

How often do kids stand in line waiting for their turn with the teacher?
How often does the whole class sit passively (or not!) while the teacher explains something half of the students already know?
How often does the teacher expect everyone to wait will she checks who’s done their homework?

Do you ever stop to think about how productively class time is being used for every student’s learning?

Are you ready to change something you do?

25 thoughts on “Do you waste learning time?

  1. Edna,
    Once again, you have said in your clear fashion how important student involvement is in learning. I will share this with my own followers. Thanks for a great post.


  2. One powerful tool I use is wOrld cafe. Pose a question then break kids into tables of four students. Each child gets 1 minute to answer question. Once the round has had a go, everyone but one person leaves to find a new table they summarise their previous groups work and answer a new question. Can be used in a variety of subjects.



    1. Hi Stephanie

      It’s a nice way to mix the kids around, but do you find one minute to answer a question is enough time to get deep thinking and have a real conversation? Thinking takes time…


    1. Hi Danielle,
      I think awareness is the first step to finding solutions. I’m a fan of the teaspoon system… Just try one little change at a time πŸ™‚


  3. I agree with Danielle…beautifully raised and illustrated. There are so many missed opportunities in classrooms and I can’t help wonder how many children feel simply unheard. I love the suggestions above on asking question and allowing children to freely respond to these in small groups. The most important job of the teacher or mentor here is to listen keenly and come in with limited but provocative questions and comments to ensure that students are exploring many ideas and perspectives. Questioning, I find is the most powerful tool in getting children to expand their thinking and (think) about their thinking as well.


  4. Hi Edna

    As a first time reader of your blog I can’t wait to read your other posts! Maximising learning time is something I am ‘hot’ on at the moment. At the end of last term I did a little bit of “data gathering” around how many interruptions (visits, intercom notices, phone calls) we had in one week. I wrote down 25 (and I’m sure I missed some!). At approximately two minutes per interruption by the time the children (and teacher!) regather their train of thought, that’s a lot of lost learning time each week. I’m currently trying to rework my class timetable to maximize time as well, making sure that the children are engaged straight after each break. I used to think ten minutes of reading after lunch was a good settling down time, now I think there might be a better way!!


  5. Hi Edna,
    I love your idea of I used to think, know I think as way for students to reflect on their thinking. I am on a fabulous learning journey, and I am planning to use a more inquiry based learning model next year. I appreciate your post for 2 reasons:
    1)it was reassuring to find like a minded educator, I too, have an aversion to long lines of students and prefer to go to small groups and provide assistance
    2)you model thinking and learning for your students, which something that I am very passionate about. I always share my learning with my students and often learn along side them!
    Thanks again for encouraging me to try new methods and not feel the need to change everything at one time!


  6. I think there is a lot that we do that students can do in pairs. For example check homework. I think if there is information you need to share before an activity can begin students can do a quick thumbs up when they get it and move off. I like Stephanie’s idea too. I’ve done a similar thing with A3 paper using the thinking hats. Students worked in groups writing their coloured hat thoughts. Then each groups moved on after about 5 minutes adding any new thoughts to the previous groups A3 paper.


  7. I have used this strategy in my traditional “Show and Tell” time. The kids sat for up to 20 mins listening (most not ha) i found it so frustrating and the kids were not engaged.. So this Term we are doing “Share and Teach” at tables in small groups 6 children a day get to share something (atm its their favourite book) and teach the other students.. We have 3-4 concepts they should know by the end (Title, characters, what happens, why they like it) so far it is 150% more productive than our traditional approach!! Now onto Morning Mat Time and how to improve engagement πŸ™‚

    Great Post for challenging how we teach!


  8. Thanks, Edna. Your post made me think about my daughter’s soccer team! Last year, coach would line the girls up and one at a time, each would get a chance to kick the ball into the goal, whilst the others would talk, laugh, wait patiently for a chance to “connect with the ball”. Her coach this year has enlisted the help of other parents, dividing the girls into smaller groups, with rotating types of skills… Smaller groups, more direct involvement and engagement, and more “connecting with the ball”. For the same reason, littlies start out in soccer with “small sided” games… No more than 6 on a team means they all get personal attention and a chance to connect.

    Lots of parallels between great coaching and great teaching! Thanks. πŸ™‚


  9. HI Edna, We are sitting at a team meeting and having a discussion about this post. Here are some thoughts..

    “I think share and teach is lovely. Show and tell does not work I agree.” Lauri
    “I find share and teach with 5 each day really hellpful for monitoring their language skills. Im at the back .” Kaye.
    “When I started out teaching the amount of time I have students as a whole group is now so much reduced. In my early days the kids said that I spent a lot of time talking. This does not happen now- I talk with small groups ,” “Small groups let everyone be heard.” Daniel
    ” I spend much less time with whole class explicit teaching,” Rowena.
    The big idea gave us food for thought – Rowena.
    “A great post”- Monica
    YOu have to let go….Daniel


  10. Wow! Another inspiring post. I am going to be sure to make sure I “think” back and remember the importance of this blog when I get into my own classroom. It is wonderful that you have pointed out the importance of student interaction for effective teaching and learning. I especially like the way you summed up the thought behind, “I used to think…now I think”. I have always wondered the best way to present this as an argument when I change my mind about something. Most people think that once you make up your mind about something, you can’t change it. Ridiculous! If you are experiencing, learning, and most of all THINKING, you will MOST DEFINITELY change your mind about some things. Please visit . Again, thanks for sharing another great post!


  11. This is an issue that I noticed while student teaching. One cooperating teacher used to line the class up at her desk and check their homework individually. As they returned to their seats they worked in a Spelling workbook but no lesson was ever given and the work was never checked. I thought this was unproductive and have tried to bring the small group experience into my class which I learned while working as a Girl Scout Leader. We always worked in patrols (small groups) with all individuals within a patrol working together and helping each other achieve whatever goal they were working on. Everyone had the ability to be heard or ask for help. It’s a great feeling when I walk around my class and listen as my students take charge of their learning. I think using “I used to think…” and “Now I think…” will be a great addition within the groups by encouraging the students to think critically and provide information that other students may challenge or support with their own ideas.


  12. Reflecting on our practice and particularly the wasting of learning time through our management practices is important to the engagement of our students. I often have the privilege of working and observing in a number of classrooms. There are many examples of great practice and also areas for improvement that we can all undertake. Blog posts such as this have us all thinking. Thank you.


  13. Hi Edna,

    I am also a first time reader of your blog and I look forward to read your other posts and following you on twitter! It was also great to read the responses that others wrote. I can identify with both the scenarios you mentioned and definitely used to feel that I needed to be in control, particularly when I started teaching first. Since last year I have been teaching ICT as a specialist teacher and though I often need to demonstrate to the students, I am keen to maximise their learning time and minimise my talking time.


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