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How Much Time is Just Right?

Did I spend too long covering that topic?  Did I ask too many questions?  Did I not discuss this topic enough?  What’s the magic amount of time to spend on a particular topic?  How do I know if I covered the material well enough?

After debriefing part of today’s Humanities lesson with my co-teacher, I started to ask myself many questions.  I wondered why she was able to cover more ground and start the second part of the lesson in one period while I had barely finished the first part of the lesson in one period.  What was I doing that she wasn’t?  So, we talked and tried to figure out what was going on.  Did she go too fast?  As we chatted, we started to note the differences.  She asked less questions during the class read-aloud.  I stopped a few times, asking probing questions.  We both read the same amount of text though.  Did I ask too many questions?  Would it have been better for my students if I had kept reading without stopping?  Did my questions help them grasp the story in a more meaningful way?  So, there were a few minutes accounted for.  Then we discussed how we conducted our mini-lesson on making predictions while reading.  My co-teacher asked one question and only had a volunteer or two address it.  I asked my students three guiding questions and allowed at least three volunteers to share their insight.  Did that waste time?  Was it beneficial to my students for me to offer multiple perspectives on the reasons and ways to make predictions?  Was my co-teacher able to better capture the essence of the strategy in a more succinct manner?  Did her students get more out of the lesson than mine?  Is one way better than another?

So, the time discrepancy mystery was solved.  Now, we had to figure out which method of covering the lesson was more effective.  So, we talked and tried to dissect the mini-lesson to determine if less or more made a difference.  We finally came to the conclusion that varying individual teaching styles are good for the students to be exposed to.  In their academic future they will be faced with a plethora of teaching methods.  Some teachers will ask lots of questions, some teachers will lecture more, some teachers will have more project based work, and some teachers will find a balance.  The students need to be prepared to be successful in all different arenas.  The goal is to reach our students in relevant and engaging ways.  While asking questions or not asking questions may not matter to our students, it’s always beneficial to ponder the effectiveness of the questions and the manner in which they were discussed.  Five minutes here and five minutes there doesn’t really make a big difference on a daily basis, but it adds up over time.  So, if less is more or more is better then it would be good to know.  

Our solution to the dilemma is simple: Poll our students at the end of the year and ask them which teaching styles best helped them learn and grow as students over the course of the year.  We could pose several different questions and allow the students to explain their answers.  This would provide us with some hard data that may help us solve this problem.  However, it might also create more problems.  At the end of the day, doing something is better than being stagnate like a pond.  Good teachers aren’t made of pond scum.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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