The Benefits of Teaching Students Time Management Skills

Let’s take a quick ride in the Way Back Machine to last week’s blog entry….  I wrote all about how I was trying to teach my students the value and benefit in effectively managing their time.  I detailed how I had the students create and maintain a Daily Work Schedule to keep themselves on track for a lengthy project we worked on in Social Studies class.  I explained how I was hopeful that this little activity would help my students.  Now, let’s return to present day…

It’s a bright, sunny, and warm Memorial Day, as I sit and ponder the events from this past week.  My amazing fifth grade class completed their Social Studies project on the Silk Road and finished their Book Reviews in Language Arts class.  It was a banner week filled with much hard work.  But what about the Time Management activity, you ask.  How did that go?  Well, I am happy to report that this activity totally helped teach my students the benefit of managing their time in relevant and meaningful ways.

At the start of each Social Studies class, I had the students review and update their Daily Work Schedule.  Did they finish what they had set out to accomplish for homework the evening before?  Do they need to make any changes to today’s plan?  Then, they got right to work.  During almost every work period, ALL of my students diligently worked on meeting their goals and finishing the work they set out to do.  It was quite remarkable.  This Daily Work Schedule seemed to really motivate my students to work more effectively than ever before.  How did this happen though?  What about the Daily Work Schedule helped motivate them to work harder than ever before?  Was it the fact that they had generated this daily schedule and so ownership was higher?  Did that help make them want to work more effectively?  Or was it something else entirely?  Have my students simply figured out how to be great students?  Or, were they transformed into robots while I left the classroom to print a document?  Interesting thoughts.  While it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what was at play during the project, having the Daily Work Schedule did seem to really help my students.  It seems that they really do see the benefit in breaking down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.

And talk about the quality of their work.  Wow!  They really stepped it up in this area for this final project.  They went above and beyond.  Students sought me out for feedback on their work multiple times before turning it in to be graded.  I was amazed.  For the previous project, students waited until the day it was due to seek feedback from me on their work, and by then it was too late.  This time, they demonstrated that they had learned from their mistakes.  Students also wanted to make their work look really impressive.  As the students were creating a journal imagining themselves as travelers on a caravan during the time of the Silk Road, they wanted their final product to look authentic.  So, they made tea that they then used to make the pages of their journal look old and worn.  They also crumpled their pages and burned the edges to bring authenticity to their finished journals.  It was so cool for me to observe my students pushing themselves to create their best possible work.  They held the bar for themselves very high.  Because they had managed their time effectively using the Daily Work Schedule, they had time to jazz up their work.  I was so proud of how they persevered through the struggles faced in the previous mapping project to complete quality work for this final project.  Again, I say, failure is so crucial in the learning process.  Because some of my students had failed to effectively manage their time well to complete a quality tri-layered map that met the graded objective, they were able to learn from their mistakes and try again.

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At the close of the project, I had the students provide me with feedback on the entire Social Studies unit.  In one question, I had them consider the usefulness of the Daily Work Schedule, and here is what they had to say about that:

  • “It helped a lot.”
  • “The schedule helped me budget my time.”
  • “Because it helped me to see what I needed to do.”
  • “It helped because I knew how long I had to do something and it also helped me so that I was on task.”
  • “It helped to keep me on track and know what I should be doing.”
  • “It helped because I new exactly what I had to do every day instead of trying to plan the day of.  I had something to look at.”

Clearly, my students saw the benefit in having a plan for how to best utilize their time to accomplish a task or goal.  Mission accomplished.

As the end of our school year is closer than I would like to admit, I do feel confident that my students are prepared for the rigors of sixth grade.  They have the skills needed to be successful in completing quality work in a timely manner.  They know how to overcome obstacles.  They have the problem solving skills needed to tackle any challenge thrown their way.  They know how to think critically and analyze the world around them.  As much as it pains me to start saying my goodbyes to my wonderfully talented, kind, and caring fifth graders, I know that it is time.  They are ready to move on, like young birds.  They are no longer baby birds in need of me chewing up their food and regurgitating for them to consume.  Oh know, they can now eat food on their own without my help.  I’m so proud of how far they’ve come.  Fly little birdies, fly.

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Lessons for Learning in my Fifth Grade Classroom

When I was just a wee young lad with luscious red hair, completing homework was a hoop I had to jump through in order to go outside and ride my bike or watch television.  Homework always came first in my house.  Once I got home from school, I sat down and did my homework.  Because I viewed it as a hurdle to having fun, I rarely devoted great effort or care to the completion of my homework.  I did it to get it done.  In school, my teachers graded homework on the check system: A check minus meant that it did not meet the expectation, a check meant that it was done, and a check plus meant that it was done very well.  Therefore, I made sure that I put forth just enough effort to earn checks consistently.  That was good enough for me.  My teachers never took time in class to discuss the importance of effort or what quality work looked like, and so it took me quite some time to learn the value of hard work and great effort.  Not until college did I start to understand that I should care about the work I completed as it is a reflection of who I am as a person.  I wish my elementary and middle school teachers had taken time to help me learn the value of effort and taking pride in my work.  I wish I had cared more about the quality of work I completed when I was younger, as I feel it could have helped me grow into a stronger student sooner rather than later.

As a teacher, I try exceedingly hard on a daily basis to make sure that I provide my students with the best possible educational program so that they can more rapidly transform into the best versions of themselves.  I don’t want my students feeling the way I do in 30 years because I didn’t support them in meaningful ways when they were in the fifth grade.  I want my students to see the value and benefits in completing quality work in a timely manner.  I want my students to constantly be challenging themselves to grow and develop as thinkers, problem solvers, mathematicians, and individuals.  I want my students to leave my fifth grade classroom in June feeling as though they know how to be effective and successful students in sixth grade and beyond.  I want my students to value the vital study skill of time management.  I want my students to understand what quality work looks like.  I want my students to strive for excellence in all areas of their life, because they are worth it.

One of the many ways I can help challenge my students to grow and develop in the classroom is to be mindfully aware of every opportunity for learning.  This past week was filled with teachable moments for my students.  On Tuesday, my students had a large assignment due.  They had been working on it since the middle of the previous week.  They had to hand-draw a tri-layered map of the Silk Road region.  As they had already completed a similar assignment during a prior Social Studies unit, my students knew how this complex assignment was to be completed.  Before the previous weekend, I had informed a few students that they would need to spend some time over the weekend working on the task so that they would not have hours of homework on Monday evening.  I contacted parents to let them know what I had asked of them, as fostering strong school-family relationships is crucial.  On Tuesday morning, only three students turned in their completed maps at the start of class.  At first, I felt frustrated.  Why did many of my students not complete the only homework assignment they had last night?  After I processed my feelings of anger and frustration during our mindful meditation in Tuesday’s Morning Meeting, I had an epiphany.  My students are only fifth graders.  How can I expect fifth graders to be perfect and do everything just so?  The fifth grade is a year filled with growth and opportunities to practice study skills.  As I began to accept the fact that my students need to fail in the fifth grade in order to learn vital study and life skills so that they are more effectively prepared for the sixth grade, a sense of serenity consumed me.  I shouldn’t be frustrated, but instead, I should feel elated that I have another opportunity to help my students learn the value of time management and great effort.

So, instead of beginning Social Studies class that day lecturing my students on the value of hard work and how disappointed I am that many of them did not complete the homework, I started class by explaining how fifth grade is a time of learning and development.  “I expect that many of you will fail in certain ways throughout the year so that you have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and grow as a student,” I told them.  This seemed to shock a few of the students, as their eyes grew big.  “Why is this crazy man telling us that he wants us to fail,” they were probably thinking.  I then had students share why they were unable to complete the homework assignment.  I listed their many reasons on the board.  I made sure to explain to the students that while this year I am referring to their rationales for being unable to complete the map task as reasons, the sixth grade teachers will view their reasons as excuses next year.  “Use this opportunity as a chance to learn the importance of budgeting your time effectively,” I said to my students.  I then had the students brainstorm possible ways they could prevent these same reasons allowing them to not complete their homework in the future.  The students suggested wonderful ideas such as asking for help, making a plan or time schedule of how and when they would accomplish various parts of a task, and using their free time more effectively.  It was a very insightful discussion, which I feel benefited the students well.  They seemed to all understand the importance of completing their work by pre-set due dates.  Later in the week, I gave the students another chance to practice this skill of time management.

The students began working on the final project for our unit on the Silk Road in class on Wednesday.  Before they began working in class, I had each student create a daily schedule of the work they will complete so that they can be sure they are finished by the deadline of next Thursday.  I had the students briefly write what part of the project they will work on each day in class and for homework outside of class.  On Thursday and Friday, I began and concluded each Social Studies class by having the students review and update their daily work schedule.  Did the students complete what they had intended to do for homework the night before or in class that day?  If not, they revised their schedule to reflect the reality of the situation.  This has seemed to really help many of the students stay on track with this complex and large final project.  No one is falling behind, as they had on the previous mapping task.  I am hopeful that this time management task will help the students be and feel successful next week when their final project is due.  I intend to debrief the entire project and schedule task with the students in class next Thursday so that they are able to see the value in effectively managing their time regarding academic tasks and assignments.

As I assessed the mapping assignment when all of my students had finally completed and turned in their work, I realized that many of the students failed to meet the graded objective.  Why is that?  Were they rushing?  Did they not understand what to do?  As they had all been able to meet this same objective a few months ago with a similar assignment regarding ancient Mesopotamia, I knew that they understood how to complete the assignment.  So, was it that they were not as engaged or didn’t care about this unit?  They seemed to really like learning about the Silk Road when we began this unit, and so I don’t believe that engagement was an issue.  Then what was it that caused many of the students to turn in work that lacked effort and did not display fine quality?

During Thursday’s Morning Meeting, I took time to share my findings with the class.  I explained how the quality of work that many of the students completed was low and lacking effort.  I discussed the value of holding the bar high for themselves and completing only work of which they are proud.  I reminded them that while they have the opportunity to redo work in the fifth grade, they may not have this same opportunity in sixth grade and beyond.  I want my students to value hard work and put forth more effort in reviewing their work against the requirements before turning it in so that they are handing in their best possible work.  They seemed to understand what I was saying, but only time will tell.  Plus, they are only fifth graders and have plenty of time to continue learning the value of completing quality work.

I’m hopeful that these two mini-lesson chats helped my students begin to see the benefits in completing quality work in a timely fashion.  Next Thursday will be telling; however, even if not every student turns in a high-quality final project on time, I am confident that they are still learning and working out the kinks of the challenging skill of time management.  Learning to be an effective student is an on-going journey full of failures and successes.  While my journey to understanding the value in effective time management and challenging myself to complete quality work took longer than I wish it had, I did eventually learn these vital skills, as all of my students will too one day.

How Can Teachers Help Students Gain Important Study Skills?

While this past Tuesday was Teacher Appreciation Day, I look at every day as Teacher Appreciation Day.  Each new day, my students enter my classroom full of excitement, courage, wonder, and perhaps a little anxiety, and I am the lucky one who gets to work with them all day long.  I am able to help them grow and develop as individuals, people, thinkers, readers, writers mathematicians, scientists, and problem solvers.  I see them through their challenges and successes.  I have a student in my class, who at the beginning of the year viewed punctuation as optional.  She would craft an entire paragraph with only one period.  After working with her all year on this skill, she is now able to proofread and edit her own work.  Just last week, she crafted an amazing, properly punctuated paragraph.  I am so proud of how far she has come.  When I celebrated this great accomplishment with her, the biggest smile I’ve ever seen filled her face.  That right there is an appreciation.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  I don’t need a week to receive special gifts from students and their fantastic families because I’m given gifts each and every day.  This week, a student who had been struggling with his multiplication facts all year, had a moment of clarity recently and was able to totally ace his multiplication assessment.  That’s just one of the many gifts my students bring me on a daily basis.  I got into the field of education because I want to help students, because I see the value in making learning engaging and fun.  I got into teaching so that I can help those struggling students overcome their adversity.  I didn’t get into teaching for the money, thanks, or gifts.  So, while having a week in which families and students shower me with donuts and wonderful gifts is nice, I am fortunate enough to receive amazing gifts from my students each and every school day.

One of my most treasured gifts as an educator is when students learn valuable study and life skills in my class.  As my small, yet wonderfully caring and supportive school begins in the fifth grade, I have the terrific task of helping my students prepare for the rigors of life in sixth grade and beyond.  My job is challenging because I have to find a way to marry fun and engaging learning activities with high-level study skills.  I need to help students see the value and benefit in properly completing homework.  I need to help students learn that proper typing form will only make life easier for them as they matriculate into high school and need to type 10+ page research papers.  I need students to be self-motivated to want to complete high-quality work.  This is a year-long process.  As many students began the year in my fifth grade class not having to complete much homework, never having typed more than a few sentences, and never having had the quality bar held very high for them at their past schools, I had to help them transform themselves into students who see that homework helps them grow as students, that proper finger placement on the Home Row keys helps them become faster, more effective keyboardists, and that taking pride in the work they complete will help them grow into the best possible version of themselves.  Being witness to my students growing and developing is one of my favorite aspects of teaching.  I love when a student comes into my classroom in the morning, so excited to share with me the work that he or she completed outside of the classroom for homework the evening before.  It’s so awesome to see them value hard work.

As I know that my students will be receiving a bit more homework in the sixth grade than they do for most of the year in fifth grade, I have ratcheted up the homework load since May 1.  I want my students to practice learning how to best manage their time effectively now so that they are much better at it by the time they move into the sixth grade in September.  I’d much rather have my students fail, make mistakes, and not be able to complete their homework this year, so that I am able to work with them to find ways to help them be successful before they graduate from the fifth grade.

This week in Social Studies class, the students had to finish reading a handout on the Silk Road and completing notes from it for homework.  We began the task in class.  At most, this task would have taken an hour to complete outside of class.  While we haven’t had too many lengthy assignments like this for homework over the course of the year, I know that they will be expected to complete tasks like this on a more regular basis next year.  So, I wanted to see how they would do.  While three students were unsuccessful in attempting the assignment, everybody else was able to complete the homework.  Because the task was tied to an in-class assessment, those three students who did not complete the homework, did end up not being able to meet two graded objectives.  I could tell this was unsettling for those students, as they value success.  That evening, the students had another night of challenging homework.  They needed to work on their Tri-Layered Map of the Silk Road region.  I made sure to touch base with each of the three students who struggled to complete the homework from the evening before, prior to them leaving.  I stressed the importance of learning from their mistakes and making amends.

The next day, only one student came to class unprepared with his homework not done.  The other two students put forth the effort, as they saw the value in hard work and completing their homework.  I made sure to praise those two students for their effort.  They seemed very pleased and proud of themselves.  A little positivity and meaningful praise goes a long way.  While I did have one student who still struggled with the task of completing his homework this week, I had what felt like a very good conversation with him on Friday.  I talked to him about how this lack of effort is affecting his grades and ability to be prepared for sixth grade.  I got the impression that he understands why this is an area on which he still needs to work.  I’m giving this one student another chance to practice the skill of completing work outside of class this weekend.  While I don’t assign homework over weekends or vacations, this student clearly needs to practice this skill.  As he has much more free time on the weekend, I am hopeful that he will be able to work on his map for 30-45 minutes with still plenty of time to play and relax left over.  So, I made sure he left school yesterday with all of the required materials to work on his map outside of class.  I also made sure to ask him what he needed to work on over the weekend with his mother present.  Because I have worked hard to form strong partnerships with the school and families, I am confident that this information will also elicit a few conversations between the student and his parents over the course of the weekend.

Helping students learn vital study and life skills in a supportive, caring, and low-stakes  environment will allow them to move into the sixth grade more prepared and ready to attack almost any task thrown their way.  For me, it’s all about the journey.  My students begin the year excited, but lack some important academic skills.  As their teacher, I need to provide my students with quests or opportunities for them to practice and gain these skills that they will need in order to be successful in all that the future holds for them.  My many gifts to my students are these skills that will greatly benefit and empower them with knowledge and know-how.  In turn, I receive the gift of transformation from each of my students.  Looking back on where my students were in September to where they are now, I am filled with happiness and joy.  They are effective, fifth grade critical thinkers and problem solvers.  While a few of my students still have some work to put in to fully transform into effective sixth graders, they are making progress with each new day.  I can’t wait to see what Monday brings.

The Evolution of a Meaningful Classroom Activity

I used to be very much a creature of habit.  I did the same things, the same way, every day.  I craved routine and loved it.  Perhaps it was more about control for me.  I liked feeling that I was in control of my life and destiny.  The way I looked at it was, that if I am able to make things in my life go the way I want them to go, then my life will turn out just as it is supposed to.  That strange theory once made a lot of sense to me, until I realized that I am not in control.  When I saw that my ideal life was slipping through my fingers, great stress fell upon me.  I began living life in a very fearful way.  “I shouldn’t do that because then this horrible thing might happen,” I constantly thought.  I got to a point where I wasn’t able to focus on everyday life because I was so afraid of everything.  It was no way to live my life.

So, I made some mental changes.  First, I realized that I need to live life on life’s terms.  I gave up trying to control every little thing.  I thought of myself as a tiny stone in a river’s bed.  I couldn’t control what other people did no matter how hard I tried.  Instead, I focused on controlling my choices, thoughts, and actions.  I allowed the river of life to take me along for a ride.  I turned when one side of my beautifully bumpy rock got a bit too smooth of course, but I tried very hard to just let life happen.  Because of this huge mental switch, I’m much happier than I ever was.  I’m no longer filled with stress and worry because the parking spot I usually take was filled with someone else’s car.  I don’t allow the actions or reactions of others to cause me discomfort.  I realize that everyone is their own rock in this giant river of awesomeness.  I can’t control what other rocks do, but I can control what I do and how I view what these other rocks do.  I used to allow what others did to frustrate me or cause me great stress.  Now, I just go with the flow and enjoy the ride, and what a beautiful journey it is.  Life is so wonderful, beautiful, amazing, sad, and joyous all at once.  It’s like that painting in a museum you once saw that left you transfixed and in a state of awe and wonder.

Now that I have given up trying to control things, I’m very happy and at peace.  As a teacher, it has allowed me to create an open classroom that is flexible and student-centered.  The students are involved in most of the classroom decisions.  They choose where they sit and how the tables and chairs are organized in the classroom.  Before I plan any field experience, I ask for their input.  While I have generated a curriculum for each subject, it is not rigid nor set in stone.  If I ever feel as though my students need more time with a particular concept, I can put the rest of my activities on hold to review and re-cover that challenging topic or concept.  I have come to realize over the years that if my students are not engaged in what is happening in the classroom, then no genuine learning is taking place.  Being able to craft an individualized and fluid curriculum for my fifth grade class has allowed me to become a better educator and support system for my students.  As my number one goal is always to help my students feel safe as they grow and develop into the best possible version of themselves, I am completely open to making changes to my schedule or daily lessons.  Even the morning of, as I write the daily agenda on the whiteboard in my classroom, I think about each lesson.  How can I make it more engaging, meaningful, or tangible for my students?  Nothing is ever fixed.  Like how I now live my life, I allow my students, classroom, and lessons to take me on daily adventures.  I don’t ever go into a day thinking I know how it’s going to turn out, because I truly have no idea until the end of that particular day.  While it’s a bit scary living like this, it’s also so much fun, as I’m open to all possibilities.

This past Friday, I drove to school thinking about my plan for that day’s Morning Meeting.  What was my goal for the meeting?  What did I want the students to gain from that morning’s meeting?  I knew that I wanted to provide the students an opportunity to share their thoughts on Bucket Filling, but I wasn’t completely certain how I wanted this to look.  Did I want to simply engage the students in a discussion on how they have filled the buckets of others?  Or, did I want something more than that?  As I parked my car that morning, I still hadn’t decided how I wanted this activity to unfold.  Knowing that my brain does it’s best work when I don’t even realize it’s doing anything, I began my morning by sweeping and vacuuming my classroom.  This mundane task would allow my brain to keep mulling over the best way to approach the Bucket Filling activity I wanted to complete in class that morning.  By the time I began etching the daily agenda onto the whiteboard in my classroom, I knew what I wanted to do.

I grabbed 8 differently colored pieces of paper and wrote the name of a student on each one.  I then drew a very simple picture of a bucket onto the paper.  I taped these “buckets” onto the front board in my classroom.  They added a nice splash of color to the board.  As the students entered the classroom, that was one of the first things they noticed.  Many of them asked, “What are these for?”  Like any great teacher, I responded with, “That’s a great question.  You’ll have to wait and see.”  Students do not like that response, but it kept them thinking and wondering, which is what I wanted them to do.

When it was finally time for the Bucket Filling activity, I explained the activity to the students after a quick review of Bucket Filling: “Each of you will be given three small pieces of paper.  On each piece of paper, you will write one thing that someone has done to fill your bucket or one character trait that you respect and appreciate about that person.  You will then tape that slip of paper to the person’s bucket.  If you want more paper, feel free to grab extra slips from my desk.  Like you usually do, be mindful as you are writing and filling each other’s buckets.  Make sure that everybody’s bucket has at least one slip attached to it by the end of the activity.  Spread the love.”  I then addressed questions the students posed.  One student was a little confused by the activity, and so I clarified it in a way that helped her understand what she needed to do.  Another student then asked about a bucket for a student who wasn’t in class at that point.  “Shouldn’t we make a bucket for him too?” he asked.  And so, I did add a bucket for that student.  I love how compassionate my students are, thinking about others.  Then, another student suggested that I should also have a bucket.  While I did intend for this to be an activity for the students to be filled with joy and happiness, I did add a bucket for myself.  Why not?  I can never have too much joy.  My favorite question during this time had to do with the activity itself.  “Could we do this activity during our Closing Meeting instead of the Gratitude Wall each afternoon?” he asked.  Oh, I thought.  What an interesting idea.  “Let’s see how this all plays out first, and then we can talk more about it,” I responded.  I was amazed that this student could already see the value in this activity before it even started.  Wow!

What I thought was going to be a very quick activity, turned into something much greater.  As the students began taping their positive comments and thoughts of thankfulness for their peers to the various buckets, they saw that not everyone had the same amount.  So, they all grabbed more slips of paper to balance the buckets.  While I thought for sure that I’d be recycling the extra thirty slips of paper I had made that morning, each and every extra piece of paper was taken and used by the end of the activity.  Smiles covered the faces of my students as though they had just been told there would be no homework for the remainder of the school year.  They seemed so happy filling the buckets of their peers with kind words.  I was bewildered yet again.  My students never cease to amaze me on a daily basis.  What could have been a quick task that would have allowed them to move into the reading of their Reader’s Workshop book within a minute or two, transformed into a very special 10-minute activity of awesomeness.  Seriously, I am such a blessed and fortunate educator.  Not only do I get to work at an amazing school like BHS, but I am able to wake up each morning and learn from a group of amazing fifth graders.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

After the students had literally filled each other’s buckets on the board with caring words of kindness, I then read the slips of paper aloud to the class.  The positive energy filled the classroom like helium in a balloon.  It felt wonderful.  I then asked the students how they felt after having been a part of this activity.  One student said, “It feels good to know that our classmates appreciate what we are doing.”  Another student said, “While it was hard at first to think of something to write for one student, it became easier, and then I couldn’t stop filling buckets.”  Another student said, “It felt good to make other people feel good.”  I then closed the activity by asking the students if they would like to replace the Gratitude Wall with this activity each afternoon.  All but one student wants to complete this activity in place of the Gratitude Wall during our daily Closing Meeting.  As this is a version of a Gratitude Wall, we aren’t really losing that wonderful activity;  instead, we are replacing it with something more specific and special.  I can’t wait to see how our Bucket Filling activity goes Monday afternoon.

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Because I allowed this activity to unfold as it did, it grew into something unexpected and remarkable.  What I thought would be a short discussion on Bucket Filling, turned into a heartwarming activity that further united my class together.  Had I not been open to the possibility of this brief little discussion becoming something more, then my students and I would have missed out on a very special opportunity.  Allowing life to take me where it will in the classroom, has made me a more effective teacher.  I just need to have faith that things will work out as life intends.