Overcrowded school day? Try these sure-fire ways to squeeze more in.
Ms. Sneed Struggles with an Overcrowded School Day
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sighed. Her lesson plan book, state standards, and test dates were strewn across the desk in front of her. On the adjacent table, stacks of textbooks loomed. How could she make sense of all of this? And even worse, how could she fit it all in?
Think Beyond the Boxes in Your Lesson Plan Book
Just then, her mentor, Mrs. Brown, stopped by. She noticed the tell-tale frown on Ms. Sneed’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“This!” Ms. Sneed motioned. “All of this! How can I fit it all in?”
Mrs. Brown walked to the desk and pointed at the plan book. “First,” she said, “think beyond these little boxes. This traditional structure encourages one activity per subject per day. In reality, you don’t have to do every subject every day. Nor do you need to do only one activity per subject per day.”
Ms. Sneed sat up a little straighter. “So maybe I could spend more time on science some days and not do social studies. After all, I have much less social studies content.”
“Right. And that’s just the beginning of how rethinking the boxes – or even getting rid of them – can help you fit it all in.”
Do Double Duty
Mrs. Brown continued, “All this talk about blocks actually blocks teachers’ planning power. When they teach social studies, for example, they only teach social studies.”
Ms. Sneed looked confused.
“Hear me out. When you’re teaching social studies, you should also be teaching informational text. Let your lesson do double duty.”
“Oh, I get it,” said Ms. Sneed. “Its like when I teach math skills during science.”
“Bingo!” cried Mrs. Brown.
Ditch the Textbook
Next, Mrs. Brown laid her hand on a stack of textbooks. “Strategy #2,” she said, “is to ditch the textbook.”
Ms. Sneed’s eyes widened in alarm.
“Now, now, don’t get all worked up. Maybe my words were a little harsh. But covering every page of every textbook overcrowds your day, week, month, and semester. It’s awful! Give yourself permission to pick and choose. Select text that matches the standards. Teach informational text standards with other pages. And use only effective, engaging activities.”
Ms. Sneed looked thoughtful. “I suppose that’s what the principal meant when she said that the textbooks were simply resources.”
“Yep. Thinking that way helps you focus on the standards and take charge of learning. It simplifies your teaching life. Along the way, you become a better teacher.”
At those words, Ms. Sneed’s face softened. “Okay. I hereby give myself permission to pick and choose what to use in the textbook.”
Layer It On
“Back to the squares in your lesson plan book,” said Mrs. Brown. “Sometimes, there aren’t enough columns. For example, many teachers have two columns for ELA: reading and language. In reality, we teach reading, grammar, and writing.”
“At this point, I’m really only teaching reading – which consists mainly of literature – and writing. How can I fit in all the grammar they need?”
“You could try a daily language program,” Mrs. Brown replied. “Teachers have found that teaching just a little each day adds up to mastery of grammar skills.”
“But it doesn’t end there. Your kids need to learn their multiplication facts, right? You could provide bite-sized opportunities for practice. For example, Mrs. Ellis uses Math Facts Baseball, a fun game in nine innings.”
“Thanks, this little talk has helped a lot,” Ms. Sneed told her mentor.
Good Planning Solves the Problem
Mrs. Brown smiled. “You know, it all comes down to planning. If you spend time working everything in, you’re golden. But remember, you’ll also need flexibility – and the strength to let go of material that’s not working for you.”
Ms. Sneed tapped her pencil in thought. “This year,” she said, “I’ll do just that.”
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.