Using time efficiently can maximize learning and student achievement.
President Abraham Lincoln is often credited with saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe.”
Lincoln didn’t actually say that, but it’s still a valuable message. Every endeavor, after all, requires skillful time management – and education is certainly no exception.
We’ve discussed the school leader’s role in assuring a guaranteed and viable curriculum for students and in making sure that a standards-aligned curriculum is implemented. In this post, we’ll look at ways in which school leaders can maximize time to increase student achievement.
New standards can appear daunting at the onset, causing many principals to wonder how their teachers will cover that much material within their given time constraints. For most instructional leaders, it’s not simply about exposure. It’s about maximizing time to enable students to learn at deeper levels.
With national attention now focused on students mastering grade-appropriate standards of increased complexity, it’s no wonder that this is an important area for school leaders. That’s why Element 2 of Domain 3 of the Marzano School Leader Evaluation Model focuses on this very thing. It asks, “How do I, as a school leader, not only protect, but maximize the instructional time available to my teachers?”
Most of us could probably brainstorm a quick list of things we do to protect instructional time, and these would be sources of evidence in this area. For instance, you might already:
• Reduce the number of disruptive announcements throughout the day
• Schedule core subjects for early-morning hours, when students are fresh and ready to learn
• Schedule key classes at times when students can access extra support
• Match struggling students with teachers who have the expertise to help them succeed
• Prevent students from leaving the classroom for other activities
• Offer additional assistance at times that don’t interfere with students’ core subject class periods
What else can you do to help your school maximize time?
Do you encourage teachers to review testing or formative assessment data collaboratively to make sure students master key standards before taking the summative assessment? That’s a great first step, but to maximize instructional time, teachers must also identify and fine-tune four other key areas.
1) Identify where, in the curriculum, the material was taught
The collaborative group should examine the number of times students were exposed to the standard and the level to which this exposure helped them learn the material. Considering the format, did students have enough time to master the content?
2) Compare how the information is taught to how students are assessed
Unfortunately, students with the best teacher in the world can test poorly if the material isn’t taught the way it’s assessed. I learned this at my last district. Using a primary-level reading series, we taught students to identify the author’s purpose as either to entertain, inform, or persuade. When they were assessed on this standard, however, the students scored poorly, because the way the author’s purpose was assessed did not include these three labels.
Our teachers’ guides had led teachers to teach the material at a comprehension level, but it was assessed at an analysis level. After some discussion, teachers realized they could focus on teaching the implied main idea and the analysis level of author’s purpose simultaneously, protecting instructional time while covering the material more thoroughly and efficiently. In other words, before you begin, take a look at what will eventually be expected of the students and plan accordingly.
3) Dive more deeply into the data
Data can tell you a lot about students’ instructional needs. Carefully examine what it says about their current level of functioning on a standard. If they’ve mastered it, find ways to move them beyond the essential curriculum to extended, enrichment-centered instruction. Accelerating students past their grade level can cause issues at the upper grade levels or when they transfer to other schools, but those students may benefit more if teachers compact the material to challenge them with more complexity.
When teachers become familiar with student data, it helps them to find the best “starting point” for their students. This allows them to vary their instructional time based on knowledge of their students, rather than on the presentation of the textbook. As an instructional leader, I monitor this discussion in my teachers’ collaborative group. I talk with them about their lesson plans and observation data. I connect it to the data sources for their student groups. I ask them how they know what their students need, and we discuss sources of support for their instructional decisions. All of this becomes a source of evidence for me on Domain 3 of the Marzano School Leader Evaluation Model.
4) Consider student performance from a historical perspective
Vertical alignment is the key to our work here. Compare your teachers’ instructional focus to what students have been offered in the past and try to predict what will be required of students in the future. How have your team’s unit goals and standards compared with those of the past? How will they fit with the next year’s unit goals and standards? This level of vision and insight can help solidify the overall work of your school, benefiting everyone.